Top of page

Program National Recording Preservation Board

Women on the Recording Registry

Tabulating the number of women who appear on the Library of the Congress’ National Recording Registry isn’t an easy thing to do. The world of recorded sound is immeasurably vast, the breadth of the Registry is immense and the achievements of women range from in front of the microphone to behind it to everywhere around it. To explore this complicated issue as it pertains to women (or any group or subgroup) see this article. In the meantime, scroll below for SOME of the women who are on the Registry and will be forevermore.

Recordings are listed in chronological order:

Frances Densmore Chippewa/Ojibwe Cylinder Collection. (1907-1910)

Frances Densmore's Chippewa recordings, a three-hundred cylinder sub-set of the ethnomusicologist's thirty-year collecting effort, are some of the earliest recordings she made. Her collections, housed at the Library of Congress, document Native American traditions and performances, many of which have since been lost even within their native communities. Selected for the 2003 registry.

"Some of These Days." Sophie Tucker. (1911)

Sophie Tucker
Sophie Tucker. Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-ggbain-38947; Created/Published: N/A

Vaudeville singer and comedienne Sophie Tucker first recorded her signature song for the Edison company on cylinder. It was the beginning of a recording career that extended nearly 50 years. This Sheldon Brooks song was an ideal vehicle for the earthy star known as "the Last of the Red-Hot Mamas." Selected for the 2004 registry.

"Come Down Ma Evenin' Star." Lillian Russell. (1912)

Lillian Russell
Lillian Russell.

"Come Down Ma Evenin' Star" is the only surviving recording of Lillian Russell, one of the greatest stars the American musical stage has ever known, a versatile performer at home in operetta, burlesque and vaudeville whose personal life often generated as much publicity as her performances. Born in 1861, she was a star before movies and recordings, which in their early days could not do justice to her famous beauty, voice, style and stage presence. "Come Down" was her signature song. She introduced it in the 1902 burlesque review "Twirly-Wirly," parodying the nouveau-riche society figure she had become, but investing it with a poignancy that reflected its troubled history. The song was written by her former music director John Stromberg, who committed suicide over the pain of chronic, untreatable rheumatism hours after finishing it. Russell recorded it in 1912, but it was not released. In 1943, rare record dealer Jack L. Caidin found a lone test pressing of it, inscribed by Russell herself, and released it on his own specialty label, providing us with a brief echo of the Lillian Russell phenomenon, and a fleeting glimpse into nineteenth century American theater. Selected for the 2011 registry.

"Over There." Nora Bayes. (1917)

Over There album cover
Over There

Inextricably associated in popular imagination with World War I, Nora Bayes' recording introduced George M. Cohan's song and became an international hit. Cohan had specifically requested that Bayes be the first singer to record his composition. A former member of the Ziegfeld Follies and an extremely popular vaudevillian and a Broadway star, she recorded a number of other songs to boost morale during the war and performed extensively for the troops. Selected for the 2005 registry.

"After You've Gone." Marion Harris. (1918)

Marion Harris
Marion Harris

In one of the first recorded versions of this American standard, cabaret star Marion Harris, in a profound departure from then-current singing styles, sang in a relaxed, loose-limbed, near swinging style. Her performance matched perfectly the lyric of this unsentimental love song by Turner Layton and Harry Creamer, and also its sleek, blues-inflected melody and harmony. Layton and Creamer were part of a small group of African American songwriters to write for Broadway revues during the 1910s. This recording of "After You've Gone" led the transition in American popular singing from a full-throated, relatively stilted style, to a manner more relaxed, subtle and evocative. Selected for the 2012 registry.

"Crazy Blues." Mamie Smith. (1920)

With her recording of "Crazy Blues," Mamie Smith became the first black vocalist to make a commercial vaudeville blues record. The recording was a surprise hit, reputedly selling more than 250,000 copies. It revealed to record companies a previously neglected market for records--African-Americans. Subsequently, thousands of recordings were made of black jazz and blues artists, invigorating the record business and enabling the documentation and preservation of one of the richest eras of musical creativity in the United States. Selected for the 2005 registry.

"My Man" and "Second Hand Rose." Fanny Brice. (1921)

Fanny Brice
[Bain News Service publisher]; Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-ggbain-34089; Created/Published: N/A

Performed by Fanny Brice in the "Ziegfeld Follies of 1921," "My Man" and "Second Hand Rose" were recorded by her for Victor Records the same year and issued together on a double-faced 78-rpm disc. Known for her comedic songs in Yiddish and other dialects, Brice was in the midst of marital woes when she recorded "My Man." Audiences, connecting strongly with her passionate performance, concluded she was singing about herself. "Second Hand Rose" was a follow-up to a previous hit song, "Rose of Washington Square," and was a rare instance of the sequel exceding its predecessor. Selected for the 2005 registry.

"Ory's Creole Trombone." Kid Ory. (June 1922)

This ensemble of trombonist Kid Ory, originally called "Spikes' Seven Pods of Pepper," was the first recording ever issued of a black jazz band from New Orleans. It was recorded by Andrae Nordskog for his Santa Monica, California-based Nordskog record label. Later under confusing circumstances, the record was issued on the Sunshine label belonging to Los Angeles music promoters the Spikes Brothers. Selected for the 2005 registry.

"Down Hearted Blues." Bessie Smith. (1923)

Bessie Smith
[Portrait of Bessie Smith] REPRODUCTION NUMBER: LC-USZ62-100863 (b&w film copy neg.); Created/Published: 1936

"Down Hearted Blues" is the best-selling and most enduring first release by the "Empress of the Blues." Bessie Smith first recorded in 1923, launching a blues career that would have no parallel during the classic blues era. She recorded more than 150 songs over her 14-year recording career. Selected for the 2002 registry.

"Lift Every Voice and Sing." Manhattan Harmony Four. (1923); Melba Moore and Friends. (1990)

Original label for Lift Every Voice and Sing
Original label for "Lift Every Voice and Sing"

With text written by James Weldon Johnson in 1900 and set to music by his brother John Rosamond Johnson, the hymn "Lift Every Voice and Sing" has served as the "Black National Anthem" since its adoption by the NAACP in 1919. As with "The Star-Spangled Banner," no single recording captures the hymn's essence or its overall meaning to Americans. Therefore, the registry recognizes two recordings: the 1923 version by the Manhattan Harmony Four, one of the last discs issued by the short-lived Black Swan Company—a pioneering African-American-owned record label based in Harlem—and a modernized 1990 version headed by Melba Moore. Moore sought to restore the standing of the song among young African-Americans. Among the many participants in her latter, all-star recording were Stevie Wonder, Anita Baker, Dionne Warwick and Bobby Brown. The resulting single, which benefited charity, made headlines at the time and helped to raise public awareness of the Johnsons' anthem. Selected for the 2016 registry.

"See See Rider Blues." Gertrude "Ma" Rainey. (1924)

"Ma" Rainey, called by some "the Mother of the Blues," was a pioneering blues artist whose career began in tent shows and vaudeville. She is credited with influencing many blues singers, most notably Bessie Smith. Although others recorded blues songs before Rainey and had begun to refine the genre, her recordings retain the powerful directness and poignancy that made her famous. Rainey made numerous recordings for the Paramount label; this recording is from a session she recorded with Louis Armstrong and Fletcher Henderson. Selected for the 2004 registry.

"Fascinating Rhythm." Fred and Adele Astaire; George Gershwin, piano. (1926)

"Lady, Be Good," George and Ira Gershwin's debut Broadway score, produced such standards as "Fascinating Rhythm" and "Oh, Lady Be Good!" The show starred siblings Fred and Adele Astaire. Several songs from the score were recorded in 1926 when the musical was touring in London. The recordings offer an opportunity to appreciate the innocent appeal of Adele, who retired from show business in 1932, and the piano accompaniments of composer George Gershwin. Selected for the 2004 registry.

"El Manisero" ("The Peanut Vendor") (Rita Montaner, vocal with orchestra); "El Manisero" (Don Azpiazu and His Havana Casino Orchestra). (1927; 1930)

Popular Cuban singer and radio artist Rita Montaner recorded the first version of the traditional song "El Manisero" in Havana in 1927. The Don Azpiazu and His Havana Casino Orchestra version of "El Manisero," adapted from Montaner's recording, was made in New York City three years later. It is the first American recording of an authentic Latin dance style composition. This later recording launched a decade of "rumbamania," introducing U.S. listeners to Cuban percussion instruments and Cuban rhythms. Selected for the 2005 registry.

“Kauhavan Polkka.” Viola Turpeinen & John Rosendahl. (1928) (single)

John Rosendahl and Viola Turpeinen
John Rosendahl and Viola Turpeinen. Courtesy: Artie Music

Viola Turpeinen was born to Finnish parents in Michigan in 1909 and took up the accordion at the age of 14. In 1926, she met violinist John Rosendahl, who had emigrated from Finland in his late teens in 1908. The two soon found success in Finnish and other Nordic communities of the Midwest, making their first recordings for Victor in January 1928. In “Kauhavan Polkka,” Turpeinen and Rosendahl seem to be urging each other on throughout as they might at a dance hall, challenging the dancers to match their tempo. Rosendahl died in 1931, but Turpeinen remained a highly popular performer with Finnish and other Nordic Americans. Her music reflected America’s melting pot in its blend of old and new Finnish, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and even Italian styles. Selected for the 2024 registry.

"Smyrneikos Balos" (single). Marika Papagika. (1928)

Markia Papagika
Markia Papagika. Courtesy: Arhoolie

Born on the Greek island of Kos in 1890, singer Marika Papagika immigrated to New York City in 1915 with her musician husband Gus. She began recording in 1918, and quickly became one of the most popular singers in the Greek-American community, eventually recording well over 200 sides, often accompanied by her husband on the cimbalom. "Smyrneikos Balos," a lament for lost love that is also a couples' dance, was one of her most popular songs and she recorded it three times. Selected for the 2020 registry.

"Wildwood Flower." The Carter Family. (1928)

The legendary Carter Family's most famous recording, "Wildwood Flower," showcases Mother Maybelle Carter's legendary "Carter Scratch," her trademark guitar technique in which she plays melody on the bass strings with her thumb while strumming the rhythm on the treble strings. The Carter Family's close harmony singing, unique picking style and popularization of folk tunes, as well as other song genres, formed the foundation of modern country music and continues to significantly influence musicians today. Selected for the 2006 registry.

"Casta Diva" from Bellini's "Norma." Rosa Ponselle; accompanied by the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by Giulio Setti. (December 31, 1928 and January 30, 1929.)

Rosa Ponselle
[Rosa Ponselle, 1894-1981. Head and shoulders, facing left]; Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-74126 (b&w film copy neg.); Created/Published: c.1934

The gifted American soprano Rosa Ponselle was known for her brilliant portrayal of Norma, Bellini's Druid priestess who sacrifices herself on the funeral pyre of her Roman lover. A native of Connecticut, Ponselle made her Metropolitan Opera debut at the age of 21, playing Leonora opposite Enrico Caruso in "La Forza del Destino." Previously, she and her sister Carmela appeared in vaudeville and in New York film theaters. The range, warmth and beauty of Ponselle's art represented vocal perfection to many listeners and earned her a long and successful operatic and recording career. Selected for the 2007 registry.

"Night Life." Mary Lou Williams. (1930)

Mary Lou Williams
[Mary Lou Williams, full-length portrait, seated at piano]; Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-115074; Created/Published: 1945

When a record producer asked for an impromptu solo piano performance, 20-year-old Mary Lou Williams created an original three-minute collage of stride, ragtime, blues and pop styles that summarized the art of jazz piano up to that time while pointing to the future of that genre and her own career in it. At the time, she was a pianist, composer and arranger for Andy Kirk and His Twelve Clouds of Joy, one of the great jazz bands of the Midwest. She later said that thoughts about the nightlife of Kansas City had driven this composition. Selected for the 2008 registry.

"Ten Cents a Dance." Ruth Etting. (1930)

Ruth Etting
Ruth Etting.

Singer Ruth Etting was one of the first great singers of the electrical era of recording, the period after the mid-1920's when the microphone replaced the acoustic recording horn. As with the best of the male crooners of the period, Etting's vocal delivery was artfully understated and personal. In the words of popular music writers Phil Hardy and Dave Laing, Etting, "[b]y turns peppy, fragile, and gallant...evinced the contradictory spirits of America in the Depression: sometimes beaten down, sometimes bearing up, whenever possible blithe." All these characteristics are evident in her recording of Rodgers and Hart's "Ten Cents a Dance," recorded only two weeks after Etting introduced the song on stage in the musical "Simple Simon." Selected for the 2011 registry.

"The Suncook Town Tragedy." Mabel Wilson Tatro of Springfield, Vermont. (July 1930)

This ballad about a New Hampshire tragedy is one of the earliest recordings recorded by Helen Hartness Flanders. She recorded many similar vernacular story-songs in her extensive documentation of the vernacular music of Vermont. Copies of the recording are held by Middlebury College and the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Selected for the 2004 registry.

Highlander Center Field Recording Collection. Zilphia Horton, others. (1930s-1980s)

The Highlander Center has played an important role in many political movements. These discs document Zilphia Horton, who introduced "We Will Overcome" to the Southern Labor Movement, and later, to Pete Seeger. The Collection also includes recordings of activists Myles Horton, Rosa Parks, Esau Jenkins, and Septima Clark. Selected for the 2002 registry.

"It's the Girl." The Boswell Sisters with the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra. (1931)

The Boswell Sisters
The Boswell Sisters. Courtesy: University of Exeter.

The Boswell Sisters—Connie, Martha and Vet—produced vocal harmonies that were magical. While polished, their creamy blend revealed their New Orleans roots with its relentless swing and deep feeling for the blues. "It's the Girl," a popular song of 1931, is given a classic Boswell treatment: rhythmic variations on the original song, perfect diction projected with relaxed ease and a fast tempo—with sudden tempo and mood changes—and a sprint to the end. The Dorsey Brothers Orchestra accompaniment, like the Boswell Sisters' performance, pairs the brisk, loose ease of New Orleans jazz within a tight knit ensemble. Selected for the 2010 registry.

Rosina Cohen oral narrative from the Lorenzo D. Turner Collection. (1932)

African-American linguist Lorenzo D. Turner recorded numerous Gullah dialect stories, songs, sermons, and accounts of slavery during the summers of 1932 and 1933. In this oral narrative, Rosina Cohen recounts her memories of slaves being freed by Yankees on Edisto Island. The recording is significant as a permanent record of a vanishing American regional dialect and as a document of African-American cultural history. Selected for the 2004 registry.

"Stormy Weather." Ethel Waters. (1933)

Ethel Waters
[Ethel Waters in Lew Leslie's "Rhapsody in Black" at the Sam H. Harris Theatre. Opens May 4.]; Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-ppmsca-08326; Created/Published: 1930-1940

Ethel Waters began her career as a blues singer but became a pioneer jazz singer, adapting her voice to a conversational style in which the meaning of the song lyrics are conveyed with subtle theatricality. Waters' rendition of "Stormy Weather" became a bestseller, bringing her tremendous exposure and respect as a jazz singer and incomparable interpreter of the American Songbook. "Stormy Weather" composers Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler originally intended their 1933 song to be sung by Cab Calloway in a revue to take place at Harlem's Cotton Club. However, it quickly made its way to Waters instead who then made it her own. Selected for the 2004 registry.

"Mal Hombre." Lydia Mendoza. (1934)

Lydia Mendoza
Lydia Mendoza. Courtesy: San Antonio Light collection – Inst. Of Texan Cultures at San Antonio.

Singer Lydia Mendoza (1916-2007) once said, "It doesn't matter if it's a corrido, a waltz, a bolero, a polka or whatever. When I sing that song, I live that song." Mendoza had been performing and recording with her family's band since the late 1920s, and was only 16 when she recorded "Mal Hombre," investing the song's bitter lyrics with an artistic maturity that belied her age: "Cold-hearted man, your soul is so vile it has no name." "Mal Hombre" launched her solo career, her stark voice and graceful 12-string guitar lines resounding strongly with the Spanish-speaking audience of Texas. The Houston-born singer was soon known as "La Alondra de la Frontera," The Lark of the Border. Selected for the 2010 registry.

"I Want to Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart." Patsy Montana. (1935)

Patsy Montana
Patsy Montana.

Singer Patsy Montana's signature song, "I Want to Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart," was written at a time in 1934 when she was feeling lonely and missing her boyfriend. Montana recorded the song a year later when Art Satherly, of ARC Records, needed one more song for a recording session with the Prairie Ramblers. Her song's lively, quick polka tempo and yodeling refrain, and Montana's exuberant delivery, resulted in it being requested at every performance; it became one of the first hits by a female country and western singer. A popular performer on the WLS radio program "National Barn Dance," Montana was the soloist with the Prairie Ramblers, a group that successfully melded jazz and string band music. Montana's film appearance in a Gene Autry film, "Colorado Sunset" in 1939 introduced her to a wider audience, and her independent air, high-spirited personality, and singing style quickly secured her popularity as a singing cowgirl. Patsy Montana was named to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996. Selected for the 2011 registry.

"Tristan und Isolde." Metropolitan Opera, featuring Kirsten Flagstad and Lauritz Melchior, NBC broadcast. (March 9, 1935)

Kirsten Flagstad
[Kirsten Flagstad, three-quarter length portrait, facing left, in costume for "Tristan and Isolde", holding chalice] / Carlo Edwards, New York.

This recording captures Wagnerian singing at its dramatic best by two of the greatest voices of the twentieth century and prime interpreters of the lead roles. The beauty and purity of Flagstad's singing, captured at the beginning of her worldwide fame, combined with Melchior's heroic scale and nobility creates an unsurpassed performance in this profoundly influential opera. This recording is an early example of the Metropolitan Opera's Saturday matinee broadcasts, which have brought live performances of complete operas into homes throughout the world for more than 75 years. Selected for the 2009 registry.

"Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen." The Andrews Sisters. (1938)

THe Andrews Sisters
[Publicity photograph of the Andrews Sisters]; Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-137549; Created/Published: c.1943

This English-language version of a popular song from a Yiddish musical by Jacob Jacobs and Sholom Secunda brought the Andrews Sisters to national attention. In the version by Sammy Cahn, the only Yiddish retained was the song title (translation: "To me, you are beautiful"), a phrase which is repeated throughout. Vic Schoen, the Sisters' bandleader and arranger, turned the number into a swing sensation that showcased the girls' close harmony and smooth vocal syncopations. Selected for the 2008 registry.

"God Bless America." Kate Smith. Radio broadcast premiere. (November 11, 1938)

Kate Smith
[Kate Smith half-length portrait, facing front, standing before a microphone]; REPRODUCTION NUMBER: LC-USZ62-134898 (b&w film copy neg.); Created/Published: 1930s

Originally composed by Irving Berlin in 1918, and reworked by him in 1938, "God Bless America" has become the nation's de facto anthem. Songstress Kate Smith performed her soon-to-be signature song for the first time on her radio show on November 11, 1938. It was an immediate sensation whose power and patriotism has not been diminished in the decades since. Though subsequently covered by innumerable other artists, Smith's resounding version remains the best known and most beloved rendition. Selected for the 2002 registry.

"O Que é que a Bahiana tem." Carmen Miranda. (1939)

This recording, with its lively exchange between singer and dancer Carmen Miranda and the band, embodies the merriment of Brazilian Carnival songs. "O Que é que a Bahiana tem" ("What does the Bahian girl have?") was an enormously successful recording in Brazil that celebrated Bahia culture at its roots and solidified samba's hold on Brazilian popular music. The recording helped to introduce both the samba rhythm and Carmen Miranda to American audiences. It was also the first recording of a song by Dorival Caymmi, who went on to become a major composer and performer. Selected for the 2008 registry.

"Over the Rainbow." Judy Garland. (1939)

Judy Garland
Judy Garland in "The Wizard of Oz" (1939). Courtesy: MGM

One of the best-known ballads of all time, "Over the Rainbow," from the classic American fantasy film "The Wizard of Oz," expresses a poignant yearning for escape as sung by the film's young star, Judy Garland. "Over the Rainbow" became an anthem for Garland, a song she cherished throughout her life as her favorite. "It represents everyone's wondering why things can't be a little better," she said in a 1967 interview, two years before her death. Lyricist E. Y. "Yip" Harburg settled on the image of the rainbow as the "only colorful thing that she's [the Garland character] ever seen in her life," he recalled, and created a symbol of hope that also became a reason for the film's creators to shift its cinematography from sepia tones to Technicolor once Dorothy landed in the Land of Oz. Garland credited the song's "childlike, wistful quality" to its composer, Harold Arlen. The song won an Academy Award, and the 1939 Decca recording by Garland—released a few weeks after the film's premiere—with accompaniment by Victor Young and his orchestra, became a best-seller. Selected for the 2016 registry.

"Strange Fruit." Billie Holiday. (1939)

Billie Holiday
[Portrait of Billie Holiday]; REPORDUCTION NUMBER: LC-USZ62-89028 (b&w film copy neg.); Created/Published: 1949

This searing song is arguably Billie Holiday's most influential recording. It brought the topic of lynching to the commercial record-buying public. Selected for the 2002 registry.

Dorothy Thompson: Commentary and Analysis of the European Situation for NBC Radio. (August 23-September 6, 1939)

Dorothy Thompson
Dorothy Thompson

Dorothy Thompson spent most of the 1920s and early 1930s in Europe, covering politics and culture throughout the continent as a print journalist, interviewing subjects as varied as Sigmund Freud and Adolph Hitler. From 1936 on, she wrote a thrice-weekly column, “On The Record,” in which she drew on her unique experience and knowledge of the issues and people in the news in the US and Europe. She also became a frequent presence on network radio, and in late August, 1939, as the European situation worsened and war was imminent, she made daily broadcasts on NBC analyzing developments during the last days of peace and the first days of war in Europe, which form a unique broadcast record of this complex period. Selected for the 2023 registry.

"Fibber McGee and Molly." Fibber's closet opens for the first time. (March 4, 1940)

Jim and Marian Jordon
[Jim and Marian Jordan, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing right]; Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-125853; Created/Published: 1941

The hall closet at 79 Wistful Vista, home of Fibber McGee and Molly (played by Jim and Marian Jordan), was the source of one of radio's most successful running sound gags and was America's best-known pile of junk as it tumbled out each time the door was opened. The effect played on the strength of the sound medium. Frank Pittman, the program's sound-effects engineer, created the comic catastrophe. The initial click of the door latch tantalizingly opened the routine. Then the thump of several boxes hitting the floor followed and grew to a crescendo of falling bric-a-brac increasing in speed and intensity until the victim was buried under a mountain of pots, pans, fish poles, dumbbells, skates, pie pans and coffee pots. The coda of the avalanche was the tinkling of a little bell. The gag was so effective that crowded, cluttered storage areas in homes are still compared by some to the closet of Fibber McGee. Selected for the 2007 registry.

"Me and My Chauffeur Blues" (single). Memphis Minnie. (1941)

Memphis Minnie
Memphis Minnie. Courtesy: Columbia/Sony

Lizzie Douglas, better known as Memphis Minnie, was born circa 1897 in Algiers, Louisiana. She took up guitar as a child after her family moved to the Memphis, Tennessee area in 1904, and was singing and playing on Beale Street in Memphis by the age of 13. She started recording under the name "Memphis Minnie" for the Columbia label in 1929 and went on to record over 200 songs, more than any other female country blues artist. "Me and My Chauffer Blues" showcases her aggressive and uncompromising vocal delivery and stinging guitar work. It also is her best known song, thanks in part to later covers by Big Mama Thornton, Nina Simone and Jefferson Airplane. Selected for the 2019 registry.

"The Goldbergs." Sammy Goes Into the Army. (July 9, 1942)

Gertrude Berg
Gertrude Berg

This pioneering, classic radio program was created, written, produced by and stared Gertrude Berg in the role of Molly Goldberg. It is the second longest running program in radio history (1929-1946) and was later transferred to television. "The Goldbergs"—mother Molly, husband Jake, children Sammy and Rosie—concerned a Jewish immigrant family's struggle in adapting to the perplexities of American life while also charting their upward progression which mirrored many American families. Along the way, Molly's malapropisms became famous along with her "yoo-hoo" greeting, her gentle meddling, and her common sense. This episode deals with the shared sacrifices all Americans were making during World War II, and was broadcast live from the middle of New York's Grand Central Station. As her son, Sammy, boards a train for the Army, Molly comforts another anxious mother with wartime wisdom and touching humanity. Selected for the 2013 registry.

"Oklahoma!" (album). Original cast recording. (1943)

Oklahoma! album cover
Oklahoma! Courtesy: Decca

"Oklahoma!" holds the distinction of being the first Broadway "original cast album" to be recorded and marketed by a major company. The 78-rpm disc album was enormously successful and led to the nearly systematic recording of new musicals on Broadway. The cast included Alfred Drake as Curly, Joan Roberts as Laurey, and Celeste Holm as Ado Annie. "Oklahoma!" was also the first major collaboration between Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Favorites from the score include "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning," "Surrey with the Fringe on Top," and "People Will Say We're in Love." Selected for the 2003 registry.

"Sorry, Wrong Number" ("Suspense"). (May 25, 1943)

Agnes Moorehead
Agnes Moorehead

Orson Welles once called the radio drama "Sorry, Wrong Number," "the single greatest radio script ever written." First broadcast on May 25, 1943, as part of the radio series "Suspense," its author Lucille Fletcher conceived of it as "a story which could happen in no other medium than that of pure sound," a radio tour de force. Centered around a telephone—which Fletcher called "the real protagonist of the piece"—the radio play proved so popular it was restaged seven times between 1943 and 1960. As in the original, acclaimed actress Agnes Moorehead always played the lead, that of a bedridden woman who overhears news of a soon-to-occur murder. In its original 1943 airing, the actress was brilliantly supported by sound effects artist Bernie Surrey. Selected for the 2014 registry.

"Mary Margaret McBride." Mary Margaret McBride and Zora Neale Hurston. (January 25, 1943)

Mary Margaret McBride
[Mary Margaret McBride, head-and-shoulders portrait, left hand on cheek]; Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-114727; Created/Published: 1941

Zora Neale Hurston's appearance on the Mary Margaret McBride program is a unique audio document of this vital African-American writer whose legacy continues to grow. It is also a fine example of McBride's widely heard and highly influential afternoon radio program at the peak of the host's fame. As a talk-show host, McBride pioneered the unscripted radio interview. While her interview of Hurston sounds casual and folksy, it is a very informative and focused discussion of Hurston's recent writings, her early life and education, and her ethnographic field work in Haiti and Jamaica. Selected for the 2008 registry.

"Down by the Riverside." Sister Rosetta Tharpe. (1944)

Sister Rosetta Tharpe, considered to be one of the greatest gospel singers of her generation, merged blues and jazz into her performances and influenced many gospel, jazz and rock artists. She sang at John Hammond's historic 1938 concert, "From Spirituals to Swing," in Carnegie Hall, and was a frequent performer in night clubs as well as before religious groups. "Down by the Riverside" captures her spirited guitar playing and unique vocal style, demonstrating clearly her influence on early rhythm-and-blues performers. Selected for the 2004 registry.

"Hottest Women's Band of the 1940s" (album). International Sweethearts of Rhythm. (1944-1946; released 1984)

Hottest Women's Band of the 1940s LP jacket
"Hottest Women's Band of the 1940s" LP jacket. Courtesy: Rosetta Records

The International Sweethearts of Rhythm was an interracial all‑women jazz band formed in the late 1930's at the Piney Woods Country Life School, a boarding school for African-American children in Mississippi. The band made very few commercial recordings but toured extensively in the 1940's, performing in Europe as well as at predominantly African-American theaters and can also be seen in several motion pictures. Professional musicians who joined the band include vocalist Anna Mae Winburn, Viola Burnside on tenor saxophone, and Ernestine "Tiny" Davis on trumpet. Rosetta Records, founded by Rosetta Reitz, was a record label dedicated exclusively to reissuing performances by female jazz and blues artists. Rosetta Records' International Sweethearts of Rhythm album, released in 1984, includes commercially recorded tracks by the band and excerpts from an appearance on the Armed Forces Radio Service program "Jubilee." Selected for the 2011 registry.

"The Guiding Light." (November 22, 1945)

Cast of The Guiding Light
Cast of “The Guiding Light,” c. 1940

"The Guiding Light" was the longest-running scripted program in broadcast history, running for a total of 72 years, from 1937 until 2009 on radio and television. The program was notable as an archetype of the highly populated radio "soap opera" genre, and as a breakthrough success of the innovative and prolific scriptwriter, Irna Phillips, whom many credit with inventing the entire genre. Although the later TV series revolved around the Bauer Family, the original radio version focused on the Rev. John Ruthledge and his congregation in the fictional community of Five Points. Rev. Ruthledge's reading lamp, visible to all who passed his house, was the program's namesake. Of the show's hundreds of episodes, the Registry adds this installment aired on the first Thanksgiving after the conclusion of World War II. With Rev. Ruthledge still serving overseas as a chaplain, his friend, the Reverend Dr. Frank Tuttle, gives a moving sermon to a packed church. Selected for the 2020 registry.

"Move On Up a Little Higher." Mahalia Jackson. (1948)

Mahalia Jackson
[Portrait of Mahalia Jackson] / Van Vechten, Carl, 1880-1964, photographer;Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-109778; Created/Published: 1962

This recording was gospel singer Mahalia Jackson's breakthrough disc, a bestseller that appealed equally to black and white audiences and reputedly became the bestselling gospel release of the time. In her performance, Jackson blends the vocal styles of blues singers, such as Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey, with the heartfelt emotion and commitment common to traditional gospel singing. Her recordings helped to make gospel music popular with racially and reiligously diverse audiences. Selected for the 2005 registry.

"Kiss Me, Kate" (Original Cast Album) (1949)

Kiss Me, Kate album cover
"Kiss Me, Kate" album cover

With "Kiss Me, Kate," Cole Porter created one of his most brilliant works for the stage. Blending Shakespeare and showbiz, the Tony award-winning show presents a contemporary theatrical company performing as a troupe of Elizabethan players traveling with their musical version of "Taming of the Shrew." Initially skeptical that Shakespeare would entertain a musical comedy audience, Porter merged high-brow and low in some of his most sophisticated lyrics. The original cast album was released within six weeks of the show's opening. The album's sales success more than justified Columbia Records's rush to record and release the recording, as well as its decision to make it the first original cast album released in their 12" long-playing disc format, then less than a year old. Selected for the 2014 registry.

"South Pacific" (album). Original cast recording. (1949)

South Pacific LP cover
"South Pacific" LP cover. Courtesy: Columbia

Acclaimed as one of Richard Rodgers' and Oscar Hammerstein II's greatest musicals, the Pulitzer Prize-winning "South Pacific" also has achieved landmark status in recorded sound history. Although the long-playing record (LP) was launched in 1948, sales did not take off until the next year, when Columbia Records released the original cast recording of "South Pacific" in both 78-rpm and LP formats. "South Pacific" became one of the best-selling records in the industry's history and initiated a bidding war among record companies for the rights to record original cast albums. The show brought the subject of racial prejudice to a mainstream audience, and through the album, its message spread beyond Broadway to millions of American living rooms during the years in which the modern civil rights movement was spreading. Record producer Goddard Lieberson saw the show fourteen times while preparing the album, but realized that the most important decisions occurred in the recording studio itself. "It is there that ingenuity must substitute heightened musical effects for the action and scenery of the theatre," he insisted. Lieberson's goal to create during the recording session "the elusive quality of atmosphere" became the model for many great cast albums that followed "South Pacific." Selected for the 2012 registry.

"Guys & Dolls" (album). Original cast recording. (1950)

Guys & Dolls album cover
Guys and Dolls. Courtesy: Decca

The Broadway musical fable "Guys & Dolls" is considered to be one of the greatest musical comedies every produced. It features a masterful score by Frank Loesser as well as an excellent book based on the short stories of Damon Runyon. The recording by its original cast preserves aurally many definitive performances of the show's musical treasures, most notably those by Vivian Blaine and Stubby Kaye. Selected for the 2004 registry.

"How I Got Over" (single). Clara Ward and the Ward Singers. (1950)

Clara Ward
Clara Ward. Courtesy: LOC

The Ward Singers were one of the earliest female gospel performing groups to bring their distinctive sound outside the church and into popular culture. Their song, “How I Got Over,” is delivered in gratitude and as a promise to overcome the challenges and struggles. The song has served as a song of praise and a call to action ever since. According to Clara’s sister, Willa, Clara chose to cover the song after the singers were menaced with racial epithets while on their way to a performance at an Alabama church. This experience led Clara to contemplate hardship and survival, and she published her reworking of the gospel standard. Later, Mahalia Jackson performed the song at the 1963 March on Washington, and it has remained vital as a standard in the gospel genre and via the work of many artists, including The Blind Boys of Alabama and Aretha Franklin. Selected for the 2017 registry.

“Tennessee Waltz.” Patti Page. (1950) (single)

Tennessee Waltz sheet music
“Tennessee Waltz” sheet music

This classic was written by two country music stalwarts, Redd Stewart and Pee Wee King in 1946 and saw its first recording—and initial success on the country chart—before the end of the decade. But it was in 1950, in a lush production and featuring the sweetly pained voice of Patti Page, that this “Waltz” became a popular music phenomenon. Originally intended as a B-side, “Tennessee Waltz” soon danced into the hearts of listeners where the lovely melody helped soften the sadness of the story told in its lyrics. Page’s recording would go on to define her considerable career. Since then, the song has become an enduring standard in a multitude of genres and eras. Selected for the 2024 registry.

"How High the Moon." Les Paul and Mary Ford. (1951)

Les Paul and Mary Ford
[Les Paul and Mary Ford, full-length portrait, facing front, playing guitars]; REPRODUCTION NUMBER: LC-USZ62-126080 (b&w film copy neg.); Created/Published: 1957

This exciting performance introduced over-dubbing recording techniques to the public and paved the way for studio production processes still in use today. Selected for the 2002 registry.

"It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels." Kitty Wells. (1952)

Kitty Wells
[Kitty Wells, half-length portrait, facing front, holding guitar] / Fabry, Nashville; Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-126143; Created/Published: 1956

An "answer song" to Hank Thompson's country hit "Wild Side of Life," which criticized a woman who gave up true love for the lure of the honky-tonk, Kitty Wells' "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" argues that wayward men are to blame when women stray. Wells' breakthrough hit established her as a major star and, more importantly, markedly broadened the range of subject matter considered appropriate for female country singers. The recording paved the way for increasingly frank songs by Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette and other female country musicians. Selected for the 2007 registry.

"Hound Dog." Big Mama Thornton. (1953)

Big Mama Thornton
Big Mama Thornton. Courtesy: LOC

The original version of "Hound Dog" brought together several key figures from the world of early 1950s rhythm and blues. Bandleader Johnny Otis invited composers Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, both still teenagers, to his house to hear Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton, a physically imposing singer with a powerful voice. She inspired them to write "Hound Dog" in a matter of minutes. The song was recorded Aug. 13, 1952, with Otis on drums and two members of his band providing backup: guitarist Pete Lewis and bassist Mario Delagarde. It would be six months before the disc was released, but the unique mix of styles, rhythms and rhymes made "Hound Dog" a major hit and an enduring classic. "Hound Dog" became a standard of the rock ‘n' roll era. The song went on to be recorded by many artists, including Elvis Presley. Selected for the 2016 registry.

"John Brown's Body." Tyrone Power, Judith Anderson, and Raymond Massey, directed by Charles Laughton (1953)

John Brown's Body album cover
"John Brown's Body" album cover

Charles Laughton's 1949 staged reading and 1952 recording of Shaw's "Don Juan in Hell" was a theatrical success and surprise hit recording. In 1953, his production of "John Brown's Body," an adaptation of Stephen Vincent Benét's book-length Civil War poem of 1928 starring Tyrone Power, Judith Anderson and Raymond Massey, was similarly acclaimed and also recorded by Columbia Records, overseen by the company's future president Goddard Lieberson. Its lead voices augmented with sound effects and spoken responses in the manner of a Greek chorus, at nearly two hours in length, "John Brown's Body" is anything but casual listening, but the resulting double album went well beyond being a simple document of the stage production, and has endured as a powerfully evocative work of aural theater. Selected for the 2014 registry.

Ruth Draper: Complete recorded monologues. Ruth Draper. (1954-1956)

Ruth Draper
Ruth Draper. Courtesy: Library of Congress/Sony

Ruth Draper (1884-1956) was an actress who specialized in solo performance featuring numerous characters and monologues of her own creation. Some were humorous, such as her many sketches of society women like "The Italian Lesson," a 28-minute tour de force of conversation, interruptions and distractions, and very little Italian. Others were more serious, like "A Scottish Immigrant at Ellis Island" and "In a Railway Station on the Western Plains." She presented them successfully on stages in Europe and America from the 1910s on, and her early fans included the novelist Henry James. She was a great favorite of actors, playwrights and directors, and an acknowledged influence on Lily Tomlin, Mike Nichols, Julie Harris, Uta Hagen, David Mamet, Julia Sweeney and many others. She resisted recording offers until late in her life, when she recorded a series of her monologues in 1954. A lone album with three monologues was released by RCA Victor in 1956, though her work was further anthologized on five albums by the Spoken Arts label. Recent digital versions have included previously unreleased monologues. Selected for the 2018 registry.

"Cry Me a River." Julie London. (1955)

album cover of Cry Me a River

Songstress Julie London had her biggest hit with her debut single, "Cry Me a River," written by Arthur Hamilton. Though she described her voice as only a "thimbleful" of a voice, she added, "It is kind of over-smoked voice and it automatically sounds intimate.'' Originally written for the film "Pete Kelly's Blues" (but ultimately rejected), London's version was produced by Bobby Troup, who would later marry London. Wisely, Troup had London accompanied by only a guitar and bass, Barney Kessel and Ray Leatherwood, respectively. A large ensemble would have overwhelmed her "thimbleful." The result was an enduring sexy, smokey classic. Selected for the 2015 registry.

"Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Song Book" (album). Ella Fitzgerald. (1956)

Ella Fitzgerald
[Ella Fitzgerald, head-and-shoulders portrait, singing];Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-114744; Created/Published: 1964

Ella Fitzgerald, "The First Lady of Song," will be long appreciated for her beautiful voice, thoughtful lyric interpretation, imaginative scat singing, and impeccable enunciation. "The Cole Porter Song Book," a two-LP set, is the first of her many anthologies devoted to the pantheon of American popular song composers and lyricists. Selected for the 2003 registry.

"He's Got the Whole World in His Hands." Marian Anderson. (1956)

Marian Anderson
[Marian Anderson, half-length portrait, facing slightly left]; Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-117250 (b&w film copy neg.); Created/Published: 1965

The vocal art of contralto Marian Anderson showed equal mastery of both the classical and spiritual repertory. In 1929, she gave her first recital at Carnegie Hall which served to launch her career in the U.S. and abroad. She is remembered for her performances at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, where, in 1955, she its first African-American performer, and for her landmark 1939 concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The spiritual, "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands," was one of Anderson's favorites, often performed at the conclusion of her recitals. Selected for the 2003 registry.

"My Fair Lady" (album). Original cast recording. (1956)

My Fair Lady album cover
My Fair Lady. Courtesy: Sony

The original cast recording of "My Fair Lady" marks a high point in almost every aspect of the collaborations that produced it. It boasts a magnificent score by lyricist Alan Jay Lerner and composer Frederick Loewe—witty, intelligent, beautiful, and romantic. Brilliantly orchestrated by Robert Russell Bennett and Philip J. Lang, it captures landmark performances by Julie Andrews, Rex Harrison and Stanley Holloway. The recording itself was wonderfully produced under the supervision of prescient producer Goddard Lieberson, who convinced Columbia to underwrite most of the cost of the original production. Columbia's initial investment of $360,000 generated tens of millions of dollars in profit. The recording established a new relationship between Broadway productions and record companies; the album's critical success and popularity with the public were unrivaled at the time of its release. Selected for the 2007 registry.

 "Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues" (album). Odetta. (1957)

Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues album cover
“Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues” album cover. Courtesy: Soul Jam

This is the debut album from an important voice in the folk revival--featuring a mix of blues, spirituals and ballads. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Odetta was a major influence to a generation of folk singers, including the young Bob Dylan who has cited this album as what convinced him to trade in his electric guitar for an acoustic when he heard it as a 15-year-old teenager in Minnesota. This 16-song LP showcases Odetta's extraordinary vocal power which she always manages to temper with great emotion. Among the selections: "Muleskinner Blues," "Jack o' Diamonds," "Easy Rider," "Glory, Glory" and her concluding spiritual trilogy: "Oh, Freedom," "Come and Go With Me" and "I'm on My Way." Selected for the 2020 registry.

"West Side Story" (album). Original cast recording. (1957)

West Side Story album cover
West Side Story. Courtesy: Sony

While there are over 40 recordings of the score to the Broadway show "West Side Story" in various languages and styles, the original cast recording is in many ways unequaled. Bernstein's music—with its Latin, jazz, rock and classical influences—was arguably the most demanding score heard on Broadway up to that point. Boasting Stephen Sondheim's first lyrics for a Broadway musical, the songs range from the passionate love song "Tonight," through the social satire of "America" and "Gee, Officer Krupke," to the hopeful anthem "Somewhere." Selected for the 2008 registry.

"'Freight Train,' and Other North Carolina Folk Songs and Tunes" (album). Elizabeth Cotten. (1959)

The debut album of singer, songwriter and guitarist Elizabeth Cotten was released when she was over 60 years old. A self-taught guitarist, her expressive two-finger picking style was enormously influential on folk song guitarists. Cotten was a popular performer during the folk music revival of the 1960s and a major inspiration to many aspiring musicians of the time. Cotten, who wrote "Freight Train" at the age of 12, was inspired by living next to the railroad tracks. Selected for the 2007 registry.

"Gypsy" (album). Original cast recording. (1959)

Ethel Merman
Ethel Merman still has the touch / World-Telegram photo by Walter Albertin.

"Gypsy" is considered by many to be the apotheosis of the original Broadway cast recording. It boasts a spectacular score, thrilling orchestrations, and a star turn by Ethel Merman. Jule Styne's music includes pitch perfect pastiches of vaudeville and burlesque songs, tender ballads, and what is generally agreed to be the most exciting Broadway overture in history. The lyrics by Sondheim are funny, clever, and perfectly suited to the show's characters. Much of the score was tailored to Merman, and rarely has a score and a voice so sparked each other to create such a defining record. Selected for the 2009 registry.

"Lord, Keep Me Day by Day" (single). Albertina Walker and the Caravans. (1959)

The Caravans
The Caravans, c. 1959. Courtesy: Malaco

Influenced by and spurred on by her mentor, Mahalia Jackson, in 1947 Albertina Walker formed her own—and now legendary—gospel group, Albertina Walker and the Caravans. Soon, Walker would be nicknamed "Star Maker" for the incredible talent she fostered via her group. Shirley Caesar, Bessie Griffin, Rev. James Cleveland and Inez Andrews, among others, all began their careers as part of the Caravans. Meanwhile, Walker herself would inherit the title "Queen of Gospel Music," after the passing of Jackson in 1972. This 1959 recording was one of Walker’s signature songs and performances—a heartfelt, soulful, and sometimes bluesy testament to her faith, written by the group’s pianist Eddie Williams, who also sings lead. Selected for the 2020 registry.

"A Program of Song" (album). Leontyne Price. (1959)

A Program of Song LP cover
"A Program of Song" LP cover. Courtesy: RCA Victor

Leontyne Price's debut recital recording, "A Program of Song," recorded in 1959 at Town Hall in New York, showcases the soprano's beautiful, well-balanced voice that had been garnering praise since the early 1950's. As a student at the Juilliard School of Music she caught the attention of Virgil Thomson and was invited to sing the role of Saint Cecilia in the 1952 revival of his "Four Saints in Three Acts." Success soon followed with U.S. and European tours and debuts in opera houses around the world. Known for her insightful and adventurous musicianship, as well as the dramatic feeling she brought to roles, in 1960, Price became the first African American to sing a leading role, Aida, at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. "A Program of Song," featuring renditions of French and German works by Gabriel Fauré, Francis Poulenc, Richard Strauss and Hugo Wolf that are considered to be among the most challenging of vocal pieces, revealed to listeners at home an artist of amazing power, range and depth. Selected for the 2012 registry.

"Joan Baez." Joan Baez (1960)

Joan Baez album cover
"Joan Baez" album cover

The first solo album by the woman "Time" magazine would soon crown "Queen of the Folk Singers," "Joan Baez" preserves for posterity powerful performances from the Harvard Square coffeehouse repertoire that brought Baez to prominence as the folk revival movement was arriving on the national stage. Baez's haunting arrangements of traditional English and Scottish ballads of longing and regret, mixed with an eclectic blend of Bahamian, Yiddish, Mexican, and Carter Family favorite tunes, sent critic Robert Shelton "scurrying to the thesaurus for superlatives." The album's success was especially important for women in the folk music milieu who found a role model "absolutely free and in charge of herself," in the words of fellow folksinger Barbara Dane. Selected for the 2014 registry.

"Tonight’s the Night" (album). The Shirelles. (1960)

Tonight’s the Night album cover
“Tonight’s the Night” album cover. Courtesy: Spector

The Shirelles are often referred to as a "girl group," but as their first album demonstrates, they sang with the grown-up passion of teens entering their 20s, a winning combination that made them trendsetters in the early 1960s. Shirley Owens, Beverly Lee, Doris Kenner and Adele "Micki" Harris met in junior high school in Passaic, NJ. The three hit singles from, this, their first album—"Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow," "Dedicated to the One I Love," and the title track—remain moving performances that still communicate maturing desire with plaintive vulnerability, while other album tracks like "Boys," later covered by the Beatles, are delivered with untroubled gusto and abandon. "Tonight’s the Night," may have once seemed like kid’s stuff, but it has stood the test of time. Selected for the 2022 registry.

"At Last." Etta James. (1961)

Etta James' recording of "At Last" is widely acknowledged as a "crossover" masterpiece. The song was written by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren for the 1942 Glenn Miller film, "Orchestra Wives." It became the title track on the first album that James recorded for Leonard and Phil Chess in 1961. In the producers' attempt to widen James' audience and sales, the album features many jazz and pop standards in addition to blues, which had been the focus of James' work until that time. Her sultry, blues-inflected approach to "At Last"--set in a brilliant strings and rhythm section arrangement by Riley Hampton--transcends genre, like all great crossover interpretations. Selected for the 2008 registry.

"Crazy." Patsy Cline. (1961)

Patsy Cline is considered one of country music's greatest singers and is an inspiration to many contemporary female vocalists. "Crazy," a perfect vehicle to showcase Cline's poignant, heartbreaking voice and suburb musicanship, also demonstrates the song-writing prowess of Willie Nelson. It is an excellent example of the urbane Nashville Sound, which became popular in country music after the rise of rock and roll. Selected for the 2003 registry.

"Judy at Carnegie Hall" (album). Judy Garland. (1961)

Judy at Carnegie Hall album cover
Judy at Carnegie Hall. Courtesty: Capitol

Judy Garland's singing and acting career spanned vaudeville to movies, radio, and television. She was revered for her musical strengths and personal vulnerabilities. This live concert recording exemplifies her ability to form an intimate relationship with the audience and includes a moving performance of "Over the Rainbow" from "The Wizard of Oz." Selected for the 2003 registry.

"Aida" (album). Leontyne Price, et.al. (1962)

Leontyne Price
Leontyne Price as Aida

This superb recording includes Leontyne Price in her signature role of Aida, a role that she performed over 40 times. Harold C. Schonberg, critic of the "New York Times," wrote "no soprano makes a career of acting. Voice is what counts, and voice is what Miss Price has." PBS viewers voted her singing (in a MET production) of the Act III aria, "O patria mia," as the No. 1 "Greatest Moment" in 30 years of "Live from the Met" telecasts. That performance ended with 25 minutes of sustained applause. And that was at her retirement! This 1962 recording captured Price's voice in her prime. The star-studded cast of this recording also includes Rita Gorr (who is a splendid Amneris), Robert Merrill (Amonasro, rich and firm vocally), and Jon Vickers as Radames (ringing and heroic). Selected for the 2020 registry.

"Be My Baby." The Ronettes. (1963)

This single is often cited as the quintessence of the "girl group" aesthetic of the early 1960s and is also one of the best examples of producer Phil Spector's "wall of sound" style. Opening with Hal Blaine's infectious and much imitated drumbeat, distinctive features of the song, all carefully organized by Spector, include castanets, a horn section, strings and the able vocals of Veronica (Ronnie) Bennett. Enhancing the already symphonic quality of the recording is Spector's signature use of reverb. Selected for the 2006 registry.

"The Girl from Ipanema." Stan Getz, Joao Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Astrud Gilberto. (1963)

This instantly recognizable performance popularized the melodic, samba-based, Brazilian bossa nova sound in the U.S. Guitarist and song composer Antonio Carlos Jobim teamed with saxophonist Stan Getz and Gilberto's wife, vocalist Astrud Gilberto, to create this sensuous recording. Selected for the 2004 registry.

"Dancing in the Street." Martha and the Vandellas. (1964)

This rousing dance hit has been cited as one of the first examples of what would come to be known as the Motown sound. Written by Marvin Gaye, William Stevenson and Ivy Jo Hunter, the song was turned down by another Motown act before Martha and the Vandellas performed it in the Motown studios. The group, which consisted of Martha Reeves, Rosalyn Ashford and Annette Beard, had alternated between singing backup for other Motown acts and working on their own material, but, after the success of this song, their career as a backup group was definitively ended. The African-American community would come to infuse the tune with political sentiments. Selected for the 2005 registry.

"It's My Way." Buffy Sainte-Marie. (1964) (album)

Buffy Sainte-Marie

Buffy Sainte-Marie's debut album was an impressive and highly personal set of original and traditional songs, but her self-professed Cree heritage and songs like "Now That the Buffalo is Gone" and "The Universal Soldier" led the press to typecast her as a protest singer and the folk revival's token Native American, a superficial portrayal that she fought for years afterwards. On "It's My Way," Saint-Marie's voice is alternately soothing and harrowing, a facet of her style that many found difficult at the time but which paved the way for powerful female singers like Grace Slick a few years later, and reflected the intensity and passion which would continue to distinguish Sainte-Marie's work. Selected for the 2015 registry.

"Mississippi Goddam" (single). Nina Simone. (1964)

Nina Simone
Nina Simone. Courtesy: Polygram/UMG

Written by Simone in response to the murder of civil rights activist Medgar Evers in Mississippi and the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, which killed four young African-American girls, "Mississippi Goddam" is one of the most vital songs to emerge from the Civil Rights era. Though surprisingly upbeat in tempo (Simone said of it, "This is a show tune, but the show hasn't been written for it yet."), the message of "Mississippi" is brutally clear and addressed racial strife in music without the safety of abstraction and metaphor. (In introducing the song in concert, Simone often said, "And I mean every word!") Simone's lyrics and impassioned vocal performance lays out her outrage and though the curse word in its title immediately limited the recording's radio airplay, the meaning and musicianship of this work has ensured its fame and endurance. Selected for the 2018 registry.

"New Orleans' Sweet Emma Barrett and her Preservation Hall Jazz Band." Sweet Emma and her Preservation Hall Jazz Band (1964)

New Orleans' Sweet Emma Barrett and her Preservation Hall Jazz Band album cover
"New Orleans' Sweet Emma Barrett and her Preservation Hall Jazz Band" album cover

This 1964 offering by seven veterans of New Orleans jazz, before a live Minneapolis audience, well illustrates the credo of music spoken simply: play the melody from the heart and elaborate with care. Pianist Sweet Emma Barrett, along with the Humphrey Brothers (clarinetist Willie and trumpeter Percy); trombonist "Big Jim" Robinson; bassist Alcide "Slow Drag" Pavageau; banjoist Emanuel Sayles, and drummer Josie "Cie" Frazier, perform in a manner that has become known as "New Orleans Revival Jazz." The band's music is simple, direct, and majestic. The front line (trumpet, clarinet, and trombone) contains all the necessary elements needed to provide the ear with a satisfying melodic, harmonic and rhythmic picture. The support of the rhythm section provides the solid four-beats-to-the-measure that seems to push forward and hold back at the same time. This is the magical essence of New Orleans jazz. Selected for the 2014 registry.

"Once a Day" (single). Connie Smith. (1964)

Connie Smith
Connie Smith. Courtesy: BMG

Connie Smith has been called one of the most underrated vocalist in country music history. And she's greatly admired by her peers; Dolly Parton once said, "There's only three real female singers: Barbra Streisand, Linda Ronstadt, and Connie Smith. The rest of us are only pretending."  Smith's rise to that level of admiration began with her very first single, "Once a Day," written by Bill Anderson who was already successful, both as a singer and a songwriter, when he heard Smith at a talent contest. He helped her get a recording contract and, for her first session, wrote "Once a Day," an achingly sad song about a jilted woman who misses her lover only "once a day, every day, all day long." Recorded at RCA's famous Studio B in Nashville, Smith was backed by session musicians and members of Anderson's band, The Po' Boys, including one new player, steel guitarist Weldon Myrick, who would go on to become a Nashville legend himself. Producer Bob Ferguson wanted the steel guitar to be right up front and Myrick delivered, so much so that Smith credits Myrick with "creating the Connie Smith sound." "Once a Day" was Connie Smith's biggest hit and became her signature song. Selected for the 2020 registry.

"People" (album). Barbra Streisand. (1964)

People album cover
"People" album cover. Courtesy: Columbia

Young Barbra Streisand, who set out to be an actress, used her singing voice to become both a famous singer and actress. Streisand eventually got a recording contract, then landed the lead in a Broadway show, "Funny Girl." This LP, Streisand's third, solidified her as a master interpreter thanks to her lovely treatments of such standards as "How Does the Wine Taste?," "Absent Minded Me," and "Autumn." The album's title song was taken from "Funny Girl," the hit single was released two months before the show opened. According to some accounts, there was a disagreement about whether to cut the instrumental introduction because, at 3:39, the length might discourage radio airplay, but the intro was kept. Arranger Peter Matz remembers that "there was a wrong note" by a French horn, but "Barbra's vocal on that first take was the best, so they went with it, flaws and all." "People" found a large and appreciative audience, becoming one of Streisand's signature songs. Selected for the 2016 registry.

"Where Did Our Love Go?" The Supremes. (1964) (single)

The Supremes

The breakthrough hit for Diana Ross, Mary Wilson and Flo Ballard, "Where Did Our Love Go?" was written by Motown's star songwriters and producers Holland, Dozier and Holland. Lead singer Ross, singing in a lower register, found a distinctive and mature tone that set her apart from other female singers of the era, while Wilson and Ballard's full mastery of their behind-the-beat timing for their parts, helped reveal a depth of longing in the lyrics that made the song stand out even in the dynamic, varied and ever-shifting pop scene of 1964. This single's success ensured the future of both the Supremes and Motown Records. Selected for the 2015 registry.

"The Sound of Music" (album). (1965)

The Sound of Music original album cover
"The Sound of Music," original album cover. Courtesy: RCA

It was the era of the Beatles and big screen Hollywood musicals were already on the wane, yet the 1965 film "The Sound of Music" became one of the biggest box office hits in the history of movie-making. Named to the Library of Congress' National Film Registry in 2001, the decades-old film is a beloved, multi-generational cornerstone of American life. The movie's accompanying soundtrack, featuring the lush orchestrations of Irwin Kostal, the musical supervision by Saul Chaplin and cast performances led by Oscar winner Julie Andrews, all contribute to this remarkable achievement. Selections include such timeless singalongs as "Do-Re-Mi" and "My Favorite Things," to the rousing title tune and, of course, "Climb Ev'ry Mountain." Selected for the 2017 registry.

"What the World Needs Now is Love" (single). Jackie DeShannon. (1965)

What the World Needs... 45rpm dust jacket
"What the World Needs..." 45rpm dust jacket. Courtesy: Imperial/UMG

Even among the galaxy of beautiful, timeless songs co-written by the great songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, this lovely 1965 creation sparkles. But its lightness belies its very serious, timeless and (still) timely message. Bacharach — recipient of the Library of Congress’ Gershwin Prize for Popular Song in 2012 — had the then raging Vietnam War in his mind during the song’s composition. Originally offered to the team’s frequent collaborator Dionne Warwick (who turned it down) they later made it available to singer/songwriter Jackie DeShannon who used it to kick off her fourth album. For that recording, Bacharach arranged the song, conducted the orchestra and produced the session. Released as a single in March of 1965, it became one of DeShannon’s signature hits. DeShannon would win the Grammy that year for Female Vocal Performance, and the song evolved into a standard, not only for her treatment of it but for later cover versions by the likes of Barbra Streisand, Sergio Mendes, Barry Manilow and, eventually, even Dionne Warwick. Selected for the 2023 registry.

"Wang Dang Doodle" (single). Koko Taylor. (1966)

Koko Taylor
Koko Taylor. Courtesy: Black & Blue Records

The hard-charging authentic Chicago blues sounds of “Wang Dang Doodle” made for an unlikely hit in the spring of 1966, when poppier sounds from both the U.S. and England dominated the charts. But when Koko Taylor, born Cora Walton in Tennessee in 1935, teamed up with blues composer, bassist and producer Willie Dixon to record it, they hit pay dirt and made a blues standard of a song that had not clicked with audiences even when the great Howlin’ Wolf released a version five years earlier. Taylor sang the lyrics with gusto, backed by a crack team of players that included Buddy Guy on guitar, and the song’s rogues’ gallery of party guests that included “Automatic Slim” and “Razor Totin’ Jim” rocked jukeboxes and radios around the country. Taylor went on to become one of the great voices of Chicago Blues, recording more than a dozen albums and performing around the world until her death in 2009. Selected for the 2023 registry.

"You'll Sing a Song and I'll Sing a Song" (album). Ella Jenkins. (1966)

Performer and educator Ella Jenkins has been leading children on musical journeys around the world for more than 50 years. Her call-and-response songs, and gentle soothing voice, encourage children to join in and sing along, overcoming any shyness or reluctance they might have. Singing with Ella, children have learned songs from a variety of cultures and in many languages. Her vast repertoire of songs includes nursery rhymes, folk songs and chants as well as her own original compositions. In keeping with the policy of its record label, Folkways, "You'll Sing a Song and I'll Sing a Song" has remained in print since it was first published in 1966. Selected for the 2007 registry.

Hiromi Lorraine Sakata Collection of Afghan Traditional Music (1966-67; 1971-73)

Hiromi Lorraine Sakata with Hazara women in Khadir, Afghanistan, c. 1972
Hiromi Lorraine Sakata with Hazara women in Khadir, Afghanistan, c. 1972. Courtesy: Hiromi Lorraine Sakata

This collection of over 50 hours of important and unique field recordings from Afghanistan was the research of ethnomusicologist Hiromi Lorraine Sakata. Sakata first researched in Afghanistan in 1966-67 and captured 25 hours of recordings of singers and instrumentalists from the provinces of Kabul, Khandahar, Urozgan, Nangarhar, Herat, Balkh and Nuristan. Her second trip, from 1971 to 1973, resulted in 26 additional hours of recordings from Herat, Kabul, Badakhshan, Hazarajat and Kandahar. As she wrote in her book "Music in the Mind: The Concepts of Music and Musician in Afghanistan" (2002), these recordings document a time and place that are now completely gone. Invasion, civil war and social upheaval have disrupted and, in some cases, destroyed the musical life she documented between 1966 and 1973. Sakata, a well-known expert in the music of Afghanistan, taught at the University of Washington and the University of California (Los Angeles) for decades. These important recordings are now deposited at the Ethnomusicology Archives at the University of Washington. Selected for the 2019 registry.

"New Sounds in Electronic Music" (album). Steve Reich, Richard Maxfield, Pauline Oliveros. (1967)

New Sounds in Electronic Music album cover
"New Sounds in Electronic Music" album cover. Courtesy: CBS

This avant-garde release was the first in composer and producer David Behrman's adventurous "Music of Our Time" series for CBS' budget label Odyssey. While each of the three compositions are unique, all employed tape machines as an expressive instrument, and each composer was as interested in the process of making the sounds as in the sounds themselves. Richard Maxfield's "Night Music" employs the tape machine's bias tone and an oscilloscope as the main sound sources. Neither of these sounds is typically heard: Bias is an inaudible signal that improves the tape's fidelity, whereas an oscilloscope is an audio-measurement device normally encountered on a work bench. Maxfield uses these sources to create a series of complex sounds intended to mimic the nighttime vocalizations of birds and insects. The sound source for minimalist composer Steve Reich's "Come Out" is, almost entirely, the phrase "come out to show them," heard both on the left and right of the stereo field and timed so the two repetitions slowly fall in and out of sync. In "I of IV," composer Pauline Oliveros used 12 tone generators, an eight-second tape delay and reverb to create a dense, reverberant recording that was entirely improvised; individual sound will rise to the surface and fade only to repeat later and disappear altogether. As with her later compositions that emphasized what Oliveros called "deep listening," close attention to "I of IV" reveals a wealth of detail. Maxfield died in 1969, but both Reich and Oliveros continued to develop the ideas evident here to create celebrated bodies of work. Selected for the 2017 registry.

"Ode to Billie Joe" (single). Bobbie Gentry. (1967)

Ode to Billie Joe album cover
“Ode to Billie Joe” album cover. Courtesy: Capitol/UMG

Imagery, as vivid as any Southern Gothic novel, meets superlative storytelling and musicianship in this 1967 country classic. It was not, necessarily, a local death that singer/songwriter Bobbie Gentry wanted to explore with the writing of this song but, rather, the banality with which many of us greet and process news regarding the tragedy of others: “Well, Billy Joe never had a lick of sense; pass the biscuits, please.” Spare and arresting, and written and recorded when Gentry was only 25 years old, its release in July 1967 was a distinctive break from most country music of the era, and it resonated strongly with country, pop and R&B audiences. In 1976, “Ode” would inspire a big screen film adaptation and return to the charts, powered once more by its fable-like quality and its central mystery that we are still debating over 50 years since it was proffered to us. Selected for the 2023 registry.

"Respect." Aretha Franklin. (1967)

Like Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin successfully integrated elements of her gospel background with pop tunes to create numerous gold records, including the perennial hit "Respect" composed by Otis Redding. Selected for the 2002 registry.

"The Velvet Underground and Nico" (album). The Velvet Underground and Nico. (1967)

Velvet Underground and Nico album cover
Velvet Underground and Nico. Courtesy: Polydor

For decades this album has cast a huge shadow over nearly every sub-variety of avant-garde rock, from 1970s art-rock to No Wave, New Wave and Punk. Referring to their sway over the rock music of the '70s and '80s, critic Lester Bangs stated, "Modern music starts with the Velvets, and the implications and influence of what they did seem to go on forever." Otherworldly vocals by the international model and actress Nico appear on three of the songs. John Cale's hard-edged electric viola playing adds an eerie quality to singer and guitarist Lou Reed's frank lyrical depictions of sex and addiction. Percussionist Maureen Tucker and guitarist Sterling Morrison make additional noteworthy contributions. Selected for the 2006 registry.

"Cheap Thrills" (album). Big Brother and the Holding Company. (1968)

Janis Joplin
Janis Joplin. Courtesy: Columbia

This hotly anticipated album was Janis Joplin's second release with Big Brother and the Holding Company, and on the disc, her soulful, bluesy singing reaches transcendent heights. Big Brother and the Holding Company was not just a backing band for Joplin, however. Part of San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury music scene, they were an excellent psychedelic rock band in their own right that existed before Joplin joined and reformed after she left later that year. James Gurley's scorching, wildly overdriven guitar solos and the spidery interplay between his and Sam Andrew's guitars on several track plus the solid rhythm of Dave Getz's drums all attest to the band's expertise. The album's showstopper is the cover of Erma Franklin's "Piece of My Heart," which in Joplin's hands expresses both desperation and endurance. Remarkably, even when her voice seems to be breaking up she stays in tune. Selected for the 2012 registry.

"Soul Folk in Action" (album). The Staple Singers. (1968)

Soul Folk in Action album cover
Staple Singers ("Soul Folk in Action" album cover). Courtesy: Stax.

The Mississippi (via Chicago) family act the Staple Singers established themselves as a top gospel act in the 1950s, but began reaching out to a larger audience in the 1960s, playing folk festivals and recording protest songs. This 1968 release, their first on the Stax label, did not achieve the crossover success of their 1970s work, but is a pivotal recording, a work that is spiritually informed and socially aware. "Soul Folk" contains such timeless tracks as "Long Walk to D.C.," "Top of the Mountain," "(Sittin' on) the Dock of the Bay" and "The Weight." Selected for the 2009 registry.

"Stand by Your Man." Tammy Wynette. (1968)

Tammy Wynette
Tammy Wynette. Courtesy: Sony.

Of the many popular recordings made by country-music vocalist Tammy Wynette, none elicited the reactions—pro and con—of "Stand By Your Man." The song, written by Wynette and her producer Billy Sherrill, is an ode to the weakness of men, the strength of their women, love, loyalty and support. When it was released in 1968, the women's movement in the U.S. was on the ascendancy and interpretation of the song created dissent. Must a woman stand by her man and forgive his transgressions because "after all, he's just a man" or do such attitudes signify subservience? However interpreted, Wynette's artistry transcends any literal message in the song. Her performance ranges from quiet, pensive reflection to a soaring, full-voiced chorus of affirmation, contributing to a song that remains one of the most beloved in country music. Selected for the 2010 registry.

"Switched-On Bach" (album). Wendy Carlos. (1968)

Switched on Bach album cover
Switched on Bach. Courtesy: East Side

This meticulously recorded album introduced the Moog synthesizer to a much wider audience than it had previously reached. Many of the separate synthesizer voices on the album were recorded to tape individually and carefully mixed to create the final product. After the recording, Bob Moog's musical circuitry enjoyed an enormous boom. Within a decade the synthesizer was well established in the idioms of rock, dance and Western art music. Wendy Carlos went on to record several more well-crafted Bach recordings. Selected for the 2005 registry.

"Dusty in Memphis" (album). Dusty Springfield. (1969)

Dusty in Memphis album cover
"Dusty in Memphis" album cover. Courtesy: Atlantic/Warner Bros.

By 1968, London-born singer Dusty Springfield was already a success in the United Kingdom when she came to America to record "Dusty in Memphis," which would become the defining album of her career. Even before "Memphis," Springfield had strong ties to American music having released hits written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David as well as Gerry Goffin and Carole King. Three legendary producers were involved in the sessions: Jerry Wexler, Arif Mardin and Tom Dowd. The The instrumental tracks were recorded at legendary American Sound Studio in Memphis, Tennessee, featuring the 827 Thomas Street Band and backup vocalists, the Sweet Inspirations. Springfield initially recorded her vocals there as well, but reportedly dissatisfied with the results, later rerecorded them at Atlantic Studios in New York City. Although the single "Son of a Preacher Man" was a hit, early album sales proved modest. Over time, "Dusty in Memphis" grew in stature to become widely recognized as an important album by a woman in the rock era. Elvis Costello, who contributed the liner notes on the "Memphis" 2002 reissue writes, "Dusty Springfield's singing on this album is among the very best ever put on record by anyone." Her voice, Costello wrote, was "... recorded in the audio equivalent of 'extreme close-up.' Every breath and sigh is caught and yet it can soar." Selected for the 2019 registry.

"Amazing Grace." Judy Collins. (1970)

Judy Collins
Judy Collins. Courtesy: Elektra

"Faith's Review and Expectation," a hymn written in 1779 by Anglican clergyman and former slave ship captain John Newton, has become one of the most famous hymns in the world, better known by its opening words "Amazing Grace." Originally published without music, it was not until 1835 that South Carolina singing instructor William Walker paired Newton's words to an existing tune, "New Britain," to create the song we know today. "Amazing Grace" has been recorded many times, beginning in the 1920s, but Judy Collins' deeply heartfelt 1970 recording became one of the best-known versions and unexpectedly her second-biggest hit. "When I sang ‘Amazing Grace,' my heart soared. My soul seemed to heal ...," Collins confided. Using a simple a cappella arrangement, Collins was beautifully recorded at Columbia University's St. Paul's Chapel, accompanied by a choir of friends, including her brother and her then-boyfriend, actor Stacy Keach. Her recording seemed to spark a newfound interest in "Amazing Grace," with treatments ranging from mournful to joyous. Collins' slow arrangement was likely the basis for arguably one of the second-best-known versions of "Amazing Grace," recorded in 1972 by the Pipes and Drums of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards. Selected for the 2016 registry.

"Coal Miner's Daughter." Loretta Lynn. (1970)

Coal Miner's Daughter album cover
Loretta Lynn ("Coal Miner's Daughter" album cover); Image Credit: Decca.

Loretta Lynn's signature song lovingly recalls her hardscrabble upbringing in Butcher Hollow, a poor coal mining community in Kentucky. With an upbeat melody and arrangement, the song warmly recounts a childhood of little economic means but much love. Lynn writes songs that are realistic and plain spoken, portraying strong and independent women like herself. She was named to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1988, and her successful career continues to the present. Selected for the 2009 registry.

"Tapestry" (album). Carole King. (1971)

Carol King on Tapestry album cover
Tapestry. Courtesy: Sony

Composer Carole King wrote many early rock and roll classics and then became a successful solo recording artist with her 1971 album, "Tapestry." It established King as a premier and influential force for female singer-songwriters and stayed on the charts for over 300 weeks. Selections on the album include "I Feel the Earth Move," "You've Got a Friend," and "It's Too Late." Selected for the 2003 registry.

“This is a Recording.” Lily Tomlin. (1971) (album)

Lily Tomlin
Lily Tomlin

This first comedy album by actress-comedian Lily Tomlin features some of her most memorable characters developed from her time as a cast member on the legendary television show “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.” Most of the album is performed in character and centers around her beloved Ernestine, the nosy, aggressive and sharp-tongued telephone operator best known for her signature line “one ringy-dingy, two ringy-dingy.” Stand out performances include when Ernestine demands that the (fictional) executive at Pepsi Cola Company refund her dime. Even better is when she pits Ernestine against J. Edgar Hoover, whom she associates with the vacuum cleaner company, claiming that “everybody knows there is nothing like a Hoover when you’re dealing with dirt.” The album won Tomlin her first Grammy for Best Comedy Recording, making her the first solo woman to win this award. Selected for the 2024 registry.

"For the Roses" (album). Joni Mitchell. (1972)

For the Roses album cover
For the Roses. Courtesy: Elektra

In "For the Roses," Joni Mitchell took the confessional lyrics of her critically-acclaimed "Blue" album and infused them with touches of jazz. The result is a mélange of folk, rock, jazz and country that retains the heartfelt tone of her earlier work, but presents it on a broader canvas. While Mitchell later delved more deeply into jazz, "For the Roses" remains the album in which all the elements of her creative palette are in perfect balance. Selected for the 2007 registry.

"Free to Be…You & Me" (album). Marlo Thomas and Friends. (1972)

Free to Be…You and Me album cover
“Free to Be…You and Me” album cover. Courtesy: Arista

The 1972 album "Free to Be...You and Me" is remarkable both as a snapshot of social change with regard to gender norms and expectations in the early 1970s and for the wide array of talent it assembled. Marlo Thomas explained in a 2003 interview that the inspiration for the project came from her niece, and a desire for children's educational materials that did not impose rigid and arbitrary gender roles and societal expectations. Thomas expected modest sales at best, but the album quickly sold hundreds of thousands of copies, ultimately achieving gold, platinum, and diamond status. Those sales were likely due in part to Thomas's own celebrity status, but also because the album's message of gender equality resonated with a large segment of American society, young and old, male and female. Appearances by talents as varied as Diana Ross, Harry Belafonte, Dick Cavett, and former pro football player Rosey Grier (in "It's All Right to Cry") further ensured appeal to a wide audience. The album and follow-up book led to an ABC television special two years later, and the project was reprised in the 1988 TV special "Free to Be...A Family." Selected for the 2020 registry.

"Robert & Clara Schumann Complete Piano Trios." The Beaux Arts Trio. (1972)

Robert and Clara Schumann

The Beaux Arts were an ideal vehicle for the trios of Robert and Clara Schumann, whose music is full of interesting musical details, and whose structures might get lost without the balance of musical values the Trio puts into everything. While the Trio's approach puts both composers in the best light, they demonstrate very strongly the musical identity of Clara Schumann. The temptation is to compare Clara's writing with her husband's, but her work stands strongly on its own. The work of both Schumanns is some of the most nuanced in classical music—and it found three sympathetic advocates in the members of the Beaux Arts Trio. Selected for the 2015 registry.

"Live in Japan" (album). Sarah Vaughan. (1973)

Sarah Vaughan
[Sarah Vaughan, half-length portrait, seated, with hands at her shoulders, facing right] / James J. Kriegsmann, N.Y.; Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-ppmsca-08328 (digital file from original photograph); Created/Published: 1953

Captivating performances by singer Sarah Vaughan, who Gunther Schuller once called "the greatest vocal artist of our century," are preserved in this two-LP set. The 1973 recording is an excellent example of Sarah Vaughan's range of talents: her stunning virtuosity, glorious instrument, heartfelt interpretations, and ease of performing before a live audience. It features several signature tunes, including "Summertime" and "Poor Butterfly." "Live in Japan" was produced relatively late in Vaughan's career and illustrates that, unlike most singers, Vaughan's voice seemed to grow richer, stronger and more versatile as she aged. Selected for the 2006 registry.

"Ola Belle Reed" (album). Ola Belle Reed. (1973)

Ola Belle Reed album cover
"Ola Belle Reed" album cover. Courtesy: Concord Music Group

Ola Belle Reed was born in 1916 in Grassy Creek, North Carolina, a small town near the Virginia and Tennessee border. The area was rich in traditional music, and by her teens she was an accomplished singer, guitarist and clawhammer banjo player, playing at local gatherings before her family relocated to Rising Sun, MD, when she was 18. After many years of performing with her brother, Alex Campbell, she formed a group with husband Bud and her son David. They recorded this album for Rounder Records in 1973. The album mixed older pieces such as "Wayfaring Pilgrim" and "Billy in the Lowground" that showcased her deep feeling for traditional material, with her own compositions, including "My Epitaph" and "High on a Mountain," which has since become part of the Bluegrass, Country and Americana canons in versions by Marty Stuart, Tim O'Brien, Del McCoury and others. Though Reed had been a popular performer around northern Maryland and southern Pennsylvania for many years, this album brought her to a much wider audience. By the time of her death in 2002, she was a beloved and influential artist who had mentored many young musicians and was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1986. Selected for the 2018 registry.

"Celia & Johnny" (album). Celia Cruz and Johnny Pacheco. (1974)

Celia & Johnny LP cover
"Celia & Johnny" LP cover. Courtesy: Vaya

Cuba's Celia Cruz was a dominant artist in the Afro-Cuban scene of the 1950s, when she sang with the great Sonora Matancera band. She came to America in 1962, and did well initially but, by the early 1970s, Latin styles nurtured in the US were dominant, and her career entered a slump. For this mid-'70s album, rather than recreate the large orchestras that Cruz usually fronted, New York based bandleader and co-founder of the Fania Records label Johnny Pacheco assembled a small group that included pianist Papo Lucca, tres player Charlie Martinez, and several percussionists, including himself. This proved to be the perfect setting for Cruz to reach a newer and younger audience while simultaneously remaining true to her roots. And she responded with some of the most inspired singing of her career, especially in "Celia & Johnny's" many improvised passages. The album's opening rumba, "Quimbara," was a huge dance floor hit and Cruz was soon acclaimed as the Queen of Salsa. Selected for the 2013 registry.

"Heart Like a Wheel" (album). Linda Ronstadt. (1974)

Heart Like a Wheel LP cover
"Heart Like a Wheel" LP cover. Courtesy: Capitol/EMI

In the 1970s, a decade which saw the ascendance of singer-songwriters, Linda Ronstadt was a bit of an anomaly. Primarily an interpreter, she was blessed with excellent taste in song selection and the talent to put her own stamp on each of her covers. Ronstadt's fifth solo album, "Heart Like a Wheel," continued her tradition of eclecticism and contained covers of songs by Hank Williams, Paul Anka, and Little Feat's Lowell George. "Heart" also shows a keen ear for new material, such as the achingly beautiful title track by Anna McGarrigle. What made "Heart Like a Wheel" different from Ronstadt's previous efforts was the addition of producer Peter Asher, who had been crucial to the career of James Taylor, and the addition of Andrew Gold, who not only arranged the music, but also played several instruments on the album sessions.  Selected for the 2013 registry.

"Lady Marmalade" (single). Labelle. (1974)

Nightbirds by Labelle
“Nightbirds” by Labelle. Courtesy: CBS

The elemental trio of Labelle—Patti LaBelle, Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash—first formed in 1962 as Patti Labelle and The Bluebelles. By the early 1970s, they were simply Labelle, and released six albums under that name. Their biggest hit was this French-infused dance track written by Bob Crewe and Kenny Nolan and produced by Allen Toussaint and Vicki Wickham. Inspired by a few choice streets in New Orleans, the song has been covered several times since its release, still unwittingly prompting listeners to sing its famous refrain phonetically:  "Voulez-vous coucher avec moi, (ce soir)?," often unaware of its true meaning. Selected for the 2020 registry.

"Horses" (album). Patti Smith. (1975)

Horses album cover
Patti Smith ("Horses" album cover); Image Credit: Robert Mapplethorpe; Arista.

Before recording this proto-punk classic, Patti Smith and her band had honed the tunes in a triumphant run of shows at New York's CBGB's. In the studio, producer John Cale helped the band to further refine the selections in a process that Smith remembers as not always pleasant, but as greatly beneficial to the final product. Smith's background as a rock critic and poet are equally in evidence on this record which includes re-imaginings of such oldies as "Gloria" and "Land, of a thousand dances" with the addition of Smith's provocative and uncompromising lyrics. Selected for the 2009 registry.

"The Wiz." Original cast album. (1975)

The Wiz Original Cast Album
"The Wiz" Original Cast Album. Courtesy: Atlantic

An urbanized retelling of Baum's classic "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," "The Wiz" (as both show and cast album) has endured as a family favorite and cultural touchstone since its debut on the New York stage in 1975. One of the first musicals with an all-black cast in the history of the Great White Way, the musical would go on to win seven Tony Awards, including for best musical. Along with showcasing the talents of Dee Dee Bridgewater, Ted Ross and Mabel King, the show made an instant star of its original "Dorothy," Stephanie Mills. The original-cast album from the show included well-known songs as "Home," "Don't Nobody Bring Me No Bad News," "So You Wanted To Meet The Wizard" and, of course, "Ease On Down the Road." Selected for the 2016 registry.

“Arrival.” ABBA. (1976) (album)

Arrival album cover
"Arrival" album cover. Courtesy: Polar

While the 1974 Eurovision winning “Waterloo” had brought international attention to the Swedish foursome, none of the group’s subsequent American releases even came close to matching the success they were enjoying throughout the rest of the world. But the single “Dancing Queen” and the album “Arrival” changed all of that. Combined with the success of the follow-up singles “Money, Money, Money” and “Knowing Me Knowing You,” “Arrival” became the band’s defining and most popular album. “Arrival” represents the range of ABBA’s distinctive sounds: playfulness, melancholy, and engineering combined with the voices of singers Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid (Frida) Lyngstad. There is also a sense of uplift, grounding, and a groove in “Dancing Queen” that calls even non-dancers to the open floor with its elegant piano entry and an empowering assertion that “You can dance!” Selected for the 2024 registry.

"I Feel Love." Donna Summer. (1977)

I Feel Love single sleeve
"I Feel Love" single sleeve. Courtesy: Universal Music

Brian Eno famously declared after hearing Donna Summer's single "I Feel Love" that the track would "change the sound of club music for the next 15 years." Summer wrote the song in collaboration with producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Belotte, who felt that the song was supposed to represent the music of the future and should be entirely electronic. Consequently, they hired Robbie Wedel who brought four cases of Moog synthesizer to the session and which produced nearly all the sounds on the record, including synthesized bass drums and cymbals. Particularly notable was the bass line which Belotte has described as "a giant's hammer on a wall." When the thunderous sound was combined with Summer's breathy and ethereal vocal, the cut, as Eno predicted, took the clubs by storm. Partly through the involvement of Patrick Cowley, who made remixes of 15 and 8 minutes lengths, the song won particular popularity in gay dance clubs and soon achieved the status of an anthem in the LGBT community. Selected for the 2011 registry.

"Rumours" (album). Fleetwood Mac. (1977)

Rumours original album cover
"Rumours" original album cover. Courtesy: Warner Bros.

Stevie Nicks said: "Devastation leads to writing good things." It's little wonder, then, that Fleetwood Mac's "Rumours" is so highly regarded, having been forged by the crumbling relationships of every member of the group. In 1974, the then-remaining members of Fleetwood Mac—drummer Mick Fleetwood, bassist John McVie and his wife, vocalist and keyboard player Christine McVie—found themselves without a male vocalist or guitarist. A chance meeting at a recording studio led to guitarist and vocalist Lindsey Buckingham and vocalist Stevie Nicks, who were romantically involved, joining the group. The newly formed Anglo-American lineup soon struck gold with their eponymous 1975 album. They should have been on top of the world, but as they began working on their follow-up album, "Rumours," relationships became so strained that, except as musically necessary, they would barely speak to each other while playing songs about each other. However, because the group had a sense that the songs were so strong, they not only endured, they prevailed. As engineer and co-producer Richard Dashut put it, they wanted to " ... make sure that every song on ["Rumours"] was worth its weight in gold." Selected for the 2017 registry.

"I Will Survive." (single). Gloria Gaynor. (1978)

Gloria Gaynor

According to its co-writer, Dino Fekaris, "I Will Survive" was initially inspired by his being fired from his job but then realizing that he was going to be okay. For performer Gloria Gaynor, it took on added meaning as she was, at the time, recovering from a serious spinal injury. Originally released as a "B" side, so many deejays began playing "Survive" that the record company reissued it as a single. It was immediately embraced as an emblem of women's empowerment and soon became anthem among the LGBT community. Over time, it has also been adopted as an anthem by survivors of all kinds. Selected for the 2015 registry.

"September" (single). Earth, Wind & Fire. (1978)

Best of Earth, Wind & Fire album cover
"Best of Earth, Wind & Fire" album cover. Courtesy: Columbia/Sony

Earth, Wind and Fire guitarist Al McKay remembers waking one morning "feeling really good" and picking up his guitar to have the central guitar groove of "September" roll out effortlessly "piece by piece." When he showed it to Maurice White, the band's leader and co-writer on the track, White wrote the opening lyric after only a few repetitions. Then assisted by the inimitable Allee Willis, the immediate, buoyant and upbeat mood of this beginning remained imprinted on the track through the final mix, and these attributes help explain much of the song's enduring appeal. White also singles out Thomas "Tom-Tom" Washington's Latin-tinged horn arrangement with opening fanfare, and the nonsense "ba-dee-ya" vocalization as contributing to the "feel-good, anthemic qualities" that the band strove for in their songs of the time. The pioneering multi-track techniques employed on this recording sustained the deep groove the band was noted for. The synthesis of funk, falsetto, and forward driving momentum of just a few chords are powered by the clarity of the individual channels and the punctuation of the horns. Selected for the 2018 registry.

“Parallel Lines.” Blondie. (1978) (album)

Blondie
Blondie. Courtesy: Chrysalis

Despite the iconic, enigmatic image of its frontwoman, Deborah Harry, and two well received prior LPs--a eponymous one and it follow up “Plastic Letters.” the band Blondie remained very much a part of the underground scene, a CBGB secret so far known to far too few. That changed with the release this era-defining album which united the band with Mike Chapman, a toughminded producer but one who fully “got” the band. “Heart of Glass,” “One Way or Another” and “Hanging on the Telephone” were three of the six singles released from this collection which coalesced the band’s unique, masterful mix of post-punk and New Wave sounds while still proving hard enough for straight-up rock fans and danceable enough for the kids in the clubs. Selected for the 2024 registry.

"Sweeney Todd" (album). Original cast recording. (1979)

Sweeney Todd LP cover
"Sweeney Todd" LP cover. Courtesy: RCA

In reviewing the cast album for "Sweeney Todd," critic John Rockwell characterized Stephen Sondheim's work as "complex mosaics, built up of bits and pieces of tunes." The recording, Rockwell suggested, allows a listener a better chance to more fully appreciate such construction than a spectator in the theater, where elements of the production vie with music for attention. A moral tale presented in the form of a horror story--a wronged barber partners with an amoral businesswoman to make meat pies out of clients--the show ultimately dramatizes the value of human life. Thomas Z. Shepard, the record's producer, stated that he conceived of this work "to a large degree, as re-creating an old-time radio program.... You should be able to close your eyes and get a fairly satisfying dramatic experience." Known for the meticulousness with which he oversaw recordings of his shows, Sondheim contributed greatly during "Sweeney's" recording session. Upon listening to the final product, he was moved to tears. Selected for the 2013 registry.

"We Are Family" (single). Sister Sledge. (1979)

Sister Sledge
Sister Sledge. Courtesy: Cotillion

The four members of Sister Sledge were veteran performers by their early 20s, but as 1979 dawned, they had enjoyed only intermittent success in eight years of recording. A collaboration with the members of the disco powerhouse Chic proved to be the turning point for the family group, and they scored their first major hit early that year with "He's the Greatest Dancer," setting the stage for the release of the album and single "We Are Family," written by Chic founders Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, in May. Twenty-year-old lead singer Kathy Sledge nailed the eight-and-a-half-minute song entirely on the first take, and it seemed to be everywhere through the summer and fall of 1979. Baseball's Pittsburgh Pirates made it their theme song, and the group's performance of it at the opening game of the World Series and the Pirates' subsequent come-from-behind victory to win the championship made "We Are Family" an anthem, with its own status and meaning. Selected for the 2016 registry.

"The Audience with Betty Carter" (album). Betty Carter. (1980)

The Audience with Betty Carter LP cover
"The Audience with Betty Carter" LP cover. Courtesy: Betcar, Verve

In 1969, after 20 years as a professional jazz singer that were sometimes frustrating, Betty Carter took the difficult and risky step of starting her own label, Bet-Car Records. It proved fortuitous for her, as once she was in charge of her own recording, she entered the most productive and successful phase of her career. Her double album, "The Audience with Betty Carter," was recorded with her instrumental trio during a three night engagement at San Francisco's Keystone Korner, one of her favorite venues, and the material is divided between her original compositions like "Sounds (Movin' On)," her 25-minute tour de force of improvisation and scat singing; and an eclectic mix of standards such as "The Trolley Song," "My Favorite Things," and more obscure gems such as Charles Henderson and Rudy Vallee's "Deep Night." Throughout, one can appreciate the special rapport with her musicians and listeners that informed her live performances, and which enabled her to gain recognition as a superlative musician during a lean era for jazz singers. Selected for the 2012 registry.

"Remain in Light." Talking Heads. (1980)

Remain in Light album cover
"Remain in Light" album cover. Courtesy: Sire Records

"Remain in Light" presents the Talking Heads at their most essential—contradictory. Layers of driving dance rhythms balance vague postmodern lyrics about the body and mind. Accessible pop-music structures make room for experimental instrumental breaks and electronic noise. The album builds on the successes of the band's previous three albums while distinguishing them as innovators even among the new wave. "Remain in Light" fully embraced and assimilated funk and African styles with an expanded ensemble that included guest musicians such as Adrian Belew, Nona Hendryx and Jon Hassel, and David Byrne drew inspiration from rap and preaching for his lyrics. "Remain in Light" was unlike anything else released in 1980, and little else since then. Selected for the 2016 registry.

"A Feather on the Breath of God" (album). Gothic Voices; Christopher Page, conductor; Hildegard von Bingen, composer. (1982)

A Feather on the Breath of God album cover
"A Feather on the Breath of God" album cover. Courtesy: Hyperion

Twelfth century Benedictine abbess Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) is the earliest known woman composer whose works have survived to present day. She was a writer, philosopher, Christian mystic and visionary as well — the title of the album is a quote from one of her writings. Her repertoire had been ignored for decades until the release of this beautiful recording by the award-winning Gothic Voices, directed by Christopher Page and engineered by Tony Faulkner. This was Gothic Voice's first recording; it also marked the beginning of Gothic Voices as a permanent group. The release helped heighten — albeit belatedly — von Bingen's life story and remarkable achievements both inside and outside of music. Selected for the 2019 registry.

"Flashdance…What a Feeling" (single). Irene Cara. (1983)

Flashdance movie poster
Flashdance movie poster

A film about a determined young woman who dreams of living her life in the spotlight doing what she loves to do — dance — needed a song that fully embodied and echoed that very sentiment. In 1983, that movie was “Flashdance,” and to fashion that all-important title track, the filmmakers turned to some experts in the field of music for movies: Giorgio Moroder, Irene Cara and Keith Forsey. Their result not only worked perfectly for the final, climatic moment of the film but sprung out from it to become a major radio hit that lasted 25 weeks on the pop chart, 14 of them in the top 10. While Moroder — as he had done for previous soundtrack songs like Blondie’s “Call Me” — created the pulsating melody, Forsey and Cara, the latter already an icon for her “Fame” success, produced the lyrics, which Cara sang with her characteristic fervor and, indeed, passion. Since its ride on the charts, “Flashdance,” the song, has emerged as an enduring anthem for anyone working to prove the doubters wrong. Selected for the 2023 registry.

"She's So Unusual" (album). Cyndi Lauper. (1983)

She's So Unusual original album cover
"She's So Unusual" original album cover. Courtesy: Portrait/Epic/Sony

Her debut solo album, "She's So Unusual," wasn't exactly what Cyndi Lauper had in mind, but it may have been just what she needed. By 1983, Lauper had weathered both bankruptcy and losing her voice, hardships which might have forced a less resilient artist to give up, but she persevered. When she finally got another chance, she wanted to make the most of it by recording her own songs, whereas the record company suggested material by others. As the sessions progressed, a mutual respect and trust developed between Lauper and producer Rick Chertoff. As a result, Lauper warmed to some of the proposed cover versions, including "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," which became the first of her four hit singles from this album. Chertoff encouraged Lauper to work with singer/songwriter Rob Hyman on an additional song for the album. That effort, "Time After Time," became Lauper's first number one hit and, in an interesting twist, her most covered song. Lauper's handling of the covers also shows her creativity. She kept the dominant drumbeat of Prince's "When You Were Mine," but slowed the tempo to give it a different feel. She brightened Jules Shear's "All Through the Night" with sparkling synthesizer riffs and with what "Rolling Stone's" Kurt Loder christened as her "… wild and wonderful skyrocket of a voice." Whereas her version of The Brains' "Money Changes Everything" hewed close to the original, Lauper's take on Robert Hazard's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" wasn't a mere cover, it was a transformation of the song into a joyous feminist anthem. Selected for the 2018 registry.

"Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" (single). Eurythmics. (1983)

Eurythmics
Eurythmics

David Stewart and Annie Lennox, popularly known as Eurythmics, had enjoyed some chart success prior to the release of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” but this synth-pop song with its propulsive drum and synth line proved their breakthrough hit. Stewart remembers the track coming together very quickly in a recording session that had initially demoralized Lennox so much that she had fallen on the floor in despair. Stewart was continuing to wrestle with his drum machine, failing to produce the sound he wanted, when Lennox perked up, asking, “What’s that?” She quickly seized a synth, set it on a string ensemble sound, and with Stewart’s addition of one more synth, the rhythm track was complete. Lennox then wrote the bulk of the lyrics on the spot. With the addition of one more section, they had created one of the most recognizable tracks in pop. Selected for the 2023 registry.

"Like a Virgin" (album). Madonna. (1984)

Like a Virgin album cover
“Like a Virgin” album cover. Courtesy: Sire Records/WMG

Madonna began her cultural ascent with her self-named debut album in 1983. But, even then, few could have predicted the worldwide domination she would achieve, starting on the dance floor, with her follow-up collection, “Like a Virgin.” Madonna was taking greater control of her musical output and skillfully integrating her image with the world mood of the moment. The album did much to solidify the early iconography of the soon-to-be legend — from the bridal dress to the “Boy Toy” belt buckle — but it is the music that endures. Collaborating with the equally legendary Nile Rodgers, Madonna proved no one could craft pop quite like her. Of the nine songs originally included on the album, four became top 10 hits, and a fifth, “Into the Groove,” which was added to a latter pressing, also was a smash. With 21 million copies of this album sold, the influence of Madonna and this album especially — catchy, controversial, coy — has yet to abate, and the beats have yet to stop. Selected for the 2023 registry.

"Private Dancer" (album). Tina Turner. (1984)

Private Dancer album cover
"Private Dancer" album cover. Courtesy: Universal

Tina Turner survived a brutal marriage to reclaim fame and obtain recognition as a solo artist and a superstar in her own right with this timeless 1984 comeback album. After several solo projects she released following her divorce from Ike Turner failed to sell, Turner was without a recording contract when John Carter signed her to Capitol Records in 1983 and she began work on "Private Dancer" in England. Propelled by the lead single, "What's Love Got To Do With It?" (later the title of the big screen biopic about Turner's life), "Private Dancer" revealed Turner as a mature and versatile singer whose work transcended categories like rock and pop. Since then, the album and its song cycle have become a touchstone and a symbol for powerful womanhood. "Private Dancer" solidified her as a legend — a status she achieved on her own terms. Selected for the 2019 registry.

Recordings of Asian elephants. Katharine B. Payne. (1984)

Katharine B. Payne's recordings of Asian elephants revealed that the animals use infrasonic sounds to communicate with one another. Such acoustic monitoring of the mammals has provided important insights into the mechanisms by which matrilineal groups of elephants maintain distance among one another over time and how males locate receptive females. In addition, the use of recordings has proven a very effective method for surveying populations of elephants. It has opened new windows into the complex lives of elephants and provided a tool for conservation. The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at Cornell University holds this important collection. Selected for the 2004 registry.

"Canciones de mi Padre" (album). Linda Ronstadt. (1987)

Canciones de mi padre album cover
“Canciones de mi padre” album cover. Courtesy: Elektra/Asylum

Even when she was working mainly within the genres of country/rock and pop, Linda Ronstadt often referenced her Mexican-American roots. In 1987, with her remarkable vocal prowess then at its considerable peak, she paid full tribute to it with her album "Canciones de mi Padre." Though Ronstadt’s record label was expecting little after the collection’s release, the album quickly went double platinum, earned the Grammy for Best Mexican/Mexican-American album and is the biggest-selling non-English recording in American recording history. The album also spawned two equally successful follow-ups. As its title suggests, "Canciones" is a tribute to the musical history of Ronstadt’s family, incorporating many layers of musical influence. Ronstadt’s album brought 13 classic songs to a previously underserved audience. She recorded her selections with four distinguished mariachi bands (Maricahi Vargas de Tecaltlan, Mariachi Vargas, Mariachi Los Camperos, and Mariachi Los Galleros de Pedro Reyand), in the process, introducing mariachi music to an untold number of new listeners. Selected for the 2022 registry.

"Rhythm is Gonna Get You" (single). Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine. (1987)

Let It Loose album cover
"Let It Loose" album cover. Courtesy: Epic

From the moment of her debut on the U.S. charts—fronting the Miami Sound Machine with their 1985 earworm "Conga"—Gloria Estefan has been recognized as not only the banner-carrier for Latin rhythms within American music but also for her superlative vocal abilities. She is equally adept in either slow, contemplative ballads or, as in this selection, with high-octane, dance-oriented party anthems. "Rhythm," the first single from Estefan and the Machine's 1987 album "Let It Loose," was co-written by Estefan and Sound Machine drummer Enrique "Kiki" Garcia. His pounding backbeat, along with the song's lively congas and Estefan's spirited vocals, have turned "Rhythm" into a modern classic and one that repeatedly proves the promise made in its title. Selected for the 2017 registry.

"Daydream Nation" (album). Sonic Youth. (1988)

Daydream Nation album cover
Daydream Nation. Courtesy: Geffen

Pioneer members of New York City's clangorous early 1980s No Wave scene, Sonic Youth are renowned for a glorious form of noise-based chaos. Guitarists Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo had previously performed with Glenn Branca's large guitar ensembles, and their alternative guitar tunings and ringing harmonies attest to this apprenticeship. On "Daydream Nation," their breakthrough album, the group's forays into outright noise always return to melodic songs that employ hypnotic arpeggios, driving punk rock rhythmic figures and furious gales of guitar-based noise. Bassist Kim Gordon's haunting vocals and edgy lyrics add additional depth to the numbers she sings. Selected for the 2005 registry.

"All Hail the Queen" (album). Queen Latifah. (1989)

All Hail the Queen album cover
“All Hail the Queen” album cover. Courtesy: Tommy Boy

The release of Queen Latifah’s debut album “All Hail the Queen” in 1989 solidified the success of her past singles while also announcing that rap could be female, Afrocentric, and incorporate a fusion of musical genres. Those genres include reggae, as well as hip-hop, house and jazz as she raps in the song, “Come Into My House.” Moreover, Queen Latifah sang as well as rapped on the album. Lyrically, the album addresses race, gender, political and social issues that were contemporary and yet remain universal. The album was released when Queen Latifah was 19 years old. Born Dana Elaine Owens in New Jersey, Queen Latifah was not the first female rapper, but her work with other female rappers, like Monie Love, on both the single and the video for “Ladies First,” opened a new door for discussion about gender in rap. The success of “All Hail the Queen” was both a product of, and led to, Queen Latifah’s success in other areas of media. Selected for the 2023 registry.

"Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814" (album). Janet Jackson. (1989)

Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 album cover
“Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814” album cover. Courtesy: A&M

Despite her record label's wishes, Janet Jackson resisted the urge to release another album like her previous "Control" (1986) in favor of an album with more socially conscious lyrics. On the album, Jackson explores issues of race, homelessness, poverty, and school violence among other topics. Musically, the album continued the productive relationship Jackson had enjoyed on "Control" with producers James "Jimmy Jam" Harris and Terry Lewis. The duo relied on drum machines and samples of street sounds, breaking glass, and trash can lids to create several brief interludes between the songs that lent the album a unified feel. Jackson's impeccable vocal timing also helped the producers build up dense multi-layered vocal mixes of the funky "Alright" and other songs on the LP. Despite such cutting-edge touches, Jackson did deliver dance songs like the lively "Escapade," but also on display were ballads like "Someday is Tonight" and even the guitar-driven rocker "Black Cat." Even the tunes with a serious call for racial healing and political unity like "Rhythm Nation" featured catchy beats, proving that dance music and a social message are not mutually exclusive. Selected for the 2020 registry.

"Nick of Time" (album). Bonnie Raitt. (1989)

Nick of Time album cover
“Nick of Time” album cover. Courtesy: Capitol Records

Bonnie Raitt released her first album in 1971 and had long been considered a great and respected talent. But, though often critically acclaimed, significant commercial success had often eluded her. In 1989, seven years after being dropped from her previous record label and after suffering a debilitating skiing accident, Raitt rallied herself and returned to the studio and, with the assistance of renowned producer Don Was, not only fashioned the most important album of her career but an album many consider among the best of the decade. "Nick of Time," Raitt’s 10th LP, would earn her three Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year, top the "Billboard" chart, sell five million copies and earn a permanent place in the book "1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die." With the aid of Was, Raitt dove deep emotionally and cared little about genre labels or categories. About the record, it was said "[she] never rocks too hard, but there is grit to her singing and playing, even when the surfaces are clean and inviting."  About the album, Raitt herself said, "Basically, it’s a return to my roots." Selected for the 2022 registry.

"Ven conmigo" (album). Selena. (1990)

Ven Conmigo album cover
"Ven Conmigo" album cover. Courtesy: Universal

This 1990 album by Selena Quintanilla, known to millions of fans simply as Selena, was the first Tejano record by a female artist to achieve gold status. The album also marks a turning point both in Selena's career and within the Tejano music genre — as it brought the music to a wider American audience and upended the dominance of male-led acts within the genre. Selena's biographer, Joe Nick Patoski, highlights the expanded stylistic scope of the album, which Selena's versatility made possible. The selections pushed the boundaries of the Tejano genre at the time while keeping the beat at the heart of the music; as Patoski quoted Selena, "I don't think you can really mess with the beat." Hits like "Baila esta cumbia" helped establish Selena as "the reigning queen of the Tejano music world," as her obituary in The New York Times called her just five years later. Selected for the 2019 registry.

"I Will Always Love You" (single). Whitney Houston. (1992)

The Bodyguard soundtrack album cover
"The Bodyguard" soundtrack (album cover). Courtesy: Sony

Inspired in part by the end of her musical partnership with Porter Wagoner, this song had been a big hit on the 1974 country charts for its writer, Dolly Parton. Later, it would become one of her signature compositions; over the years, she often concluded her concerts and her TV variety shows with it. In the early 90s, actor Kevin Costner suggested that pop diva Whitney Houston record it for the soundtrack of their forthcoming film, "The Bodyguard." Already recognized as one the great voices of her generation, Houston took the song and made it her own. Her powerful, passionate performance drove her rendition to the top of the charts. The recording would eventually become Houston's signature song and sell upwards of 20 million copies. Selected for the 2019 registry.

"All I Want for Christmas is You" (single). Mariah Carey. (1994)

Merry Christmas album cover
“Merry Christmas” album cover. Courtesy: Columbia/Sony

For the past 40 years, the lower rungs of the pop chart have been littered with attempts to launch a new Christmas standard, a song for the season to modernize the feelings that Bing Crosby and Mel Torme had so resoundingly put onto disc decades before. None of them had ever endured, however, nor taken their place with those previous hits and all the classic Christmas hymns and carols. That was until 1994 when, for her fourth collection, Carey went into the studio to make the now almost obligatory holiday album. For it, she laid down 10 songs, most of them holiday favorites like “Silent Night” and “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.” But, in the mix, she and collaborator/producer Walter Afanasieff (a.k.a. Baby Love) also contributed this original tune. The song was first released in October 1994, but, now, almost like Christmas itself, the song comes back again and again; it continues to chart every year. In fact, each year since 2000, the song has even charted higher than the year before! “All I Want…” has now gone 12 times platinum and is the best-selling holiday song ever recorded by a female artist. Selected for the 2023 registry.

"Signatures." Renée Fleming. (1997)

Renee Fleming
Renee Fleming. Courtesy: London

Renée Fleming ranks as one of the best sopranos of our time and, in the course of her career, has been seen on cultural stages from the Metropolitan Opera to "Sesame Street" and from "The Prairie Home Companion" to the Super Bowl. Her ability to bring beautiful singing in a variety of styles to mainstream audiences has been extraordinary. Her first recordings were all signals to the wider public that this voice could go places, and while most of those early recordings dealt with a particular aspect of her abilities, the "Signatures" recording from 1997 showed a variety of strengths in her voice: beautiful sound, excellent support, ability to project and a thorough understanding of the characters she's portraying. Selected for the 2016 registry.

"The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill." Lauryn Hill (1998)

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill album cover
"The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" album cover

Lauryn Hill's debut solo record, following the breakup of the Fugees, is a work of incredible honesty in which Hill explores her feelings on topics that included the deep wonder of pregnancy, the pitfalls of modern relationships, and the experience of the sacred. The album effortlessly fuses soul, rap, rhythm and blues, and reggae. Hill's vocal range, smooth, clear highs and vibrato are stunning. The rapping is rhythmically compelling while always retaining, and frequently exploiting, the natural cadences of conversational speech. Selected for the 2014 registry.

“Wide Open Spaces.” The Dixie Chicks. (1998) (album)

Wide Open Spaces album cover
“Wide Open Spaces” album cover. Courtesy: Monument

“Wide Open Spaces” was the first major-label release for the band then known as The Dixie Chicks. The band, originally a quartet, was formed in 1989 by sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Strayer (nee Erwin), playing traditional country and bluegrass. Natalie Maines joined the sisters later and the now trio further developed their sound and were picked up by Monument Records. Maines’ influence brought more rock and blues to The Chicks’ sound. The traditional instrumentation of fiddle and mandolin, strong vocal harmonies and undeniable swagger proved a powerful combination. Managing to be unapologetically country while also broadening its scope, this album paved the way for later Chicks success and cemented their place in the modern country pantheon. Selected for the 2024 registry.

"Fanfares for the Uncommon Woman." Colorado Symphony Orchestra, Marin Alsop, conductor; Joan Tower, composer (1999)

Joan Tower
Joan Tower

Tower's five-part "Fanfares for the Uncommon Woman" was composed between 1986 and 1993, with the whole piece revised in 1997. Each of the five fanfares is written for a different instrumental combination. The work is a tribute to "women who are adventurous and take risks" and each fanfare is dedicated to a different inspiring woman in the musical world. This recording marks the first time all five fanfares were recorded together and the total work intended to be viewed as a celebration of women in music. Selected for the 2014 registry.

"Songs in A Minor" (album). Alicia Keys. (2001)

Songs in A Minor album cover
“Songs in A Minor” album cover. Courtesy: J Records/Sony

On this album, J Records label head, Clive Davis, afforded singer/songwriter Keys great independence in creating the album she wanted to release.  Under a previous record deal, Keys had written and recorded much of the album, but the label rejected it. Dissatisfaction with the rejection and the label’s unwillingness to take her seriously led Keys to J Records where Davis’ instinct proved prescient. Keys has describe her influences on the album as a "fusion of my classical training, meshed with what I grew up listening to," which included the jazz from her mother’s record collection, along with the classic R&B and Hip Hop that was prevalent in her Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood.  Reviewers were quick to point out the sophistication and assurance with which the 20-year-old Keys realized the sound on this album. Her unaffected vocals were capable expressing feelings from heartbreak to new love, and from righteous women’s empowerment to elegant, stylish yearning. Selected for the 2022 registry.

"Concert in the Garden" (album). Maria Schneider Orchestra. (2004)

Maria Schneider's Concert in the Garden album cover
"Maria Schneider's Concert in the Garden" album cover. Courtesy: ArtistShare

Dance permeates Maria Schneider's "Concert in the Garden" with titles such as "Dança Ilusória" and "Choro Dançado." Listening to "Pas de Deux," it is hard not to be reminded of the seminal "Sketches of Spain" album Miles Davis made with arranger Gil Evans', with whom Schneider worked closely in the 1980s. It is a testament to Schneider's composing and arranging talents that her work can be seen not as a copy of Evans work, but an extension of it. And it is a tribute to her determination and leadership that the Maria Schneider Orchestra was some 15 years old at the time of this recording, with its 18-piece membership largely intact over that entire period. For them, Schneider created an amalgam of big band, chamber music and improvisational jazz. Such improvisation can be seen in Donny McCaslin's critically acclaimed solo in "Buleria, Solea y Rumba." In addition, "Concert in the Garden" was the first album to win a Grammy without having been sold in stores, being only distributed through the internet. Also, the album was funded and distributed by crowdfunding site ArtistShare, to respond to fan-driven demand for styles of music not otherwise readily available, while offering artists greater control over their work. Selected for the 2019 registry.

"Percussion Concerto" (album). Colin Currie; Jennifer Hidgon, composer. (2008)

Jennifer Higdon, composer
Jennifer Higdon, composer. Courtesy: NAXOS

A drummer's dream, Jennifer Higdon's composition "Percussion Concerto" received a Grammy after it was unveiled in 2010. It began its life as a co-commission between the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Tim Smith of the Baltimore Sun wrote that the one-movement work "unleashes a kinetic storm of urban beats, balanced by passages of Asian-influenced musings that exploit the most seductive qualities of the diverse percussion instruments assigned to the soloist." And Marin Alsop, the conductor of this particular performance by Currie and the London Philharmonic and released over LPO's label, said that the concerto "embraces the concept and explains that a major priority for her is to give listeners a sense of grounding and a feel for where they are in her compositions." This 2008 recording by percussionist supreme Colin Currie — indeed, the piece was written for him — captures his great virtuosity. The piece would go one to win the Grammy for Best Classical Contemporary Composition. Selected for the 2019 registry.

"Concerto for Clarinet and Chamber Orchestra." Chamber Music Northwest. Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, composer. (2012)

Ellen Taaffe Zwilich
Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. Courtesy: E. Taaffe Zwilich

Composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich had already written the first movement of this work when the terrorist attacks of 9/11 took place. Clarinetist David Shifrin leads the Chamber Music Northwest on this live recording made in Portland, Oregon, in 2004. He and several members of the ensemble had performed its premiere a year earlier, and their feeling for it comes through in the buoyancy of the first movement, suggesting the hustle and bustle of a normal working day in New York City, and in the violence, anger and sorrow of the rest of the day expressed in the subsequent movements. The 2012 CD release of this performance, and its enduring impact and reputation, are singular for a 21st century classical recording. Selected for the 2023 registry.